Associated Press
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, speaks at the conference's annual fall assembly in Baltimore, Monday, Nov. 14, 2011.

NEW YORK — Cardinal Timothy Dolan is standing by his decision to invite President Barack Obama to a prominent annual charity dinner even though the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York is suing the administration.

Dolan said he has received "stacks of mail protesting" Obama's inclusion in the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner on Oct. 18. Smith was the first Roman Catholic nominee for president. It's customary for presidents and candidates to attend the event in an election year.

Dolan said some critics have told him "the invitation is a scandal." He noted that a few of those protesting also objected to the participation of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, but the cardinal didn't say why.

Dolan said the event is meant for people of faith to gather "in an evening of friendship, civility and patriotism to help those in need, not to endorse either candidate."

"It's better to invite than to ignore, more effective to talk together than to yell from a distance, more productive to open a door than to shut one," Dolan wrote Tuesday on his blog. "Our recent popes have been examples of this principle, receiving dozens of leaders with whom on some points they have serious disagreements."

The Archdiocese of New York is among more than 40 Catholic organizations, charities and schools that are suing over Obama's mandate that most employers, except houses of worship, provide health insurance that covers birth control.

Among past speakers at the dinner have been John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In 2008, Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain attended. The speeches are mostly self-deprecating and lighthearted, and the donations go to needy children.