Catholic professors blast Boehner's record over cuts to poor
May 11th, 2011
07:27 PM ET

Catholic professors blast Boehner's record over cuts to poor

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN) - When House Speaker John Boehner steps up to the podium at the Catholic University of America's commencement on Saturday, he'll be tap dancing around the line between faith and politics.

On Wednesday, a group of 70 professors, priests, nuns and others from the Washington university and other Catholic colleges around the country fired off a letter calling Boehner on the carpet for what they say is his lack of support of legislation for the poor.

"Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it," the letter reads.

Boehner, Catholic by faith and Republican by party, was able to garner enough votes in the House for the passage of HR 1, the House budget proposal that has drawn the ire of many religious leaders.

The group of professors said the proposed cuts in the budget to Medicare, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program and food stamps "guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society."

Along with their letter they sent the speaker the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, a Vatican document on the teachings of the Catholic prepared in 2004 by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

The compendium cites specific guidance for lawmakers: "Those who exercise political authority must see to it that the energies of all citizens are directed towards the common good; and they are to do so not in an authoritarian style but by making use of moral power sustained in freedom."

Stephen F. Schneck is a professor at the Catholic University of America and director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. He is one of the signers of the letter and said the impetuous for it took root early in the budget debate.

"It was probably the contrast between what the bishops were telling us about paying attention to the needs of the poor and the actual budget that passed through the House of Representatives," Schneck said.

"One of the most ancient teachings of Christianity is preferential treatment of the poor, and it seemed that in the way in which the ... budget tried to address the deficit and the debt, it was particularly targeting programs that serve the poor," Schneck said.

"We thought that was an inappropriate balancing of the various interests of society. It seems to us these examples that we gave were illustrations of what were really egregious targeting of really valuable programs to the poorest and most vulnerable people in America."

Schneck and the other signatories on the letter are urging Boehner to join with a group of religious leaders who have been calling for a "Circle of Protection" to be formed around federal programs for the poor. That group grew out of what some have said are liberal Christian activist groups but in recent weeks has grown to include a broad scope of Protestant, Catholic and evangelical leaders.

“Lawmakers need to understand what a circle of protection means," Jim Wallis, the head of Sojourners, said on a conference call with reporters last week about the effort. "It means if you come after the poor, you will have to come and go through us first."

The coalition of religious leaders behind the "Circle of Protection" also has drawn the ire of conservative media outlets.

Rush Limbaugh said on his radio program last month, "A favorite tactic of the left, you know, when it suits them they'll talk about Jesus Christ. When they can convince or try to convince everybody Jesus Christ was the patron saint of liberalism, then they will herald Jesus Christ."

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the commencement address won't wade into the political battle over the budget. "The speaker will be delivering a personal, non-political message at the Catholic University of America that he hopes will speak to all members of the graduating class, regardless of their backgrounds or affiliations," he said in a statement to CNN.

"He is deeply honored to have been invited by CUA to address the school's graduating class and is looking forward to receiving an honorary degree from the only Catholic college in our country that is chartered by Catholic bishops,” the statement continued.

Steel also noted that an editorial in the student newspaper heralded the school's choice of commencement speaker.

Boehner is not the first Catholic politician to face criticism over how his politics and prayers mesh. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, was denied communion over his support for abortion rights, which some bishops said was in direct violation of the church's teachings.  Then-Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat, found himself in a similar row with his bishop in 2009 over abortion and was barred from receiving communion.

Schneck said any notion of whether Boehner's support for budget cuts would merit a withholding of communion is an "issue above my pay grade" and better left for a pastor, not a professor, to decide.

"I think the issue of a violation is one between him and God, but it seems the budget that has gone through the House of Representatives seems to be at odds with what should be the approach congruent with Catholic social teachings," Schneck said.

He also said the professors will not be disrupting the speech in any way and that their efforts were merely educational.

"Our efforts are to reach out to the speaker and hope to persuade him to think about endorsing the circle of protection."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bishops • Catholic Church • Christianity • Mass • Politics • Vatican

soundoff (1,057 Responses)
  1. JoJo

    Boehner should also address why he and other Republicans enthusiastically supported the unnecessary trillion tax dollar War in Iraq while the Vatican (and many other religious groups) opposed it because it violated Just War Criteria.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  2. ARob

    Republicans like to use religion to manipulate the issues to their liking, but they can't honestly avoid the fact that their chosen politicians favor rich businessmen, especially because they ARE rich businessmen.

    News stories that tell the truth on this point are "biased" according to militant right-wing zealots, while stories that are obscenely skewed in favor of the right are somehow "fair." That in a nutshell is Republican politics.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  3. Chris

    Of course he doesn't care about the poor, he's Republican isn't he?

    May 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  4. liz

    Boehner and the GOP are no friends to catholics either. Once you get past abortion and gays, there is absolutley NOTHING for the Catholic Church as far as the Republicans are concerned.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • ARob

      That's because those are the easiest issues to use to manipulate voter prejudice. Every other social and religious issue is too complicated to boil down into a black and white ignorance framework.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  5. jim jones

    The truth is pressed into the wrinkles all over his face......................

    May 12, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  6. jim jones

    He's a friend to the Cult that he belongs to. He is as owned as the average worker in America. He just can't see that himself. Good thing he chose politics. He had 0 chance in Hollywood.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  7. Karen S

    I have worked my entire adult life and was laid off in 2/2009. I applied for unemployment for the first time ever and I'm 60 years old. I have always paid my bills and consider myself a productive member of society. I have voted Democratic and sometimes Republican in the past. But I have a different perspective now and believe that we need to have more compassion for those less fortunate. There is a very ugly tone to the political discourse in USA beginning in the last election.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  8. servantofTHEWORD

    Those who believe...Isaiah 32:5-8...those who dont believe...turn or burn.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Sanjosemike

      Ummm....where was your god at Auschwitz? Have you ever heard of it? Do you know what happened there?

      Was your god "asleep at the switch? Dead? Ignoring the suffering? A psychopath? If I meet your god I will spit in his face. He has a lot of explaining to do, it appears....

      May 12, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • ARob

      Servant of the word? More like servant of your own ignorant prejudice. You talk like al Qaeda.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  9. mark

    Ii disagree with most everyone here. Boehner speaks for the Federal government, a distant monopoly not well suited for helping the poor. How best to meet the regional tastes and preferences of the poor without money being wasted on Czars in transit? Push the responsibility to where it belongs–the family, the church, the community, and the state. By the time you get to the Federal level, there is no accountability and little understanding about the regional needs of the poor. Good job Boehner!

    May 12, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • awaysaway

      Nice idea but Boehner is not as altruistic as you project. The "family, the church, the community, and the state" are all involved now. All welfare-type programs are administered by the States today (social security being the exception) and are funded with a mix of State and Federal dollars. What Boehner wants to do, minimally, is to reduce the Federal component for these programs while simultaneously providing tax cuts for the wealthy and certain industries. Its welfare for the rich.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • NonZionist

      The D's and R's have already given us socialism for banks and corporations. The big transnational corporations get to socialize their losses and capitalize their gains, and the big banks get to print all the money they need.

      Since socialism is working very well for the corporate and governmental elite, why not extend it to encompass the rest of the population. It's only fair.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • mark

      Actually, reducing the federal component reduces the crowding out of state taxes. So, fed taxation goes down, state goes up. Federal taxation is more wasteful while state and local has more accountability. As for welfare for the rich, you forget that the government spending multiplier is 1.5X according to the Obama administration, while it is 10X if left in the bank and banks lend. So, if rich lived less richly and simply saved, banks would have more to lend to the poor who are trying to get rich. Killing banking and overtaxing the rich is what sunk Spain. The jewish bankers fled to Holland and look what happened. Holland conquored England in 1689-ish and brought in the bankers, and look at what happened to England. Rather than incentivize the rich to spend via tax loopholes, how about incentivizing to live less rich and save for a rainy day?

      May 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Marion

      Social Security is a "Welfare program"?? HAHAHa....that's funny, if it wasn't so stupid! I am sure if you reach retirment age and Social Security is still around, you will be the first to collect the social security check due you. YOU PAID INTO IT, moron. It is not a "welfare program". Neither is Medicare, but I am sure you want to gut that too. Social Security is not a "welfare program for the poor".....tell that to the millions of social security recipients who still earn high incomes after retirement and still get the social security check. In my opinion, those earning over $100k per year after age 65, or have bank accounts with over 100k in them, should not be eligible to collect social security. Now THAT would reduce the cost of the program and save billions.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  10. awaysaway

    I guess Boehner's argument would be that there will be a trickle down effect as jobs are created and therefore he can support the budget in good conscience. Of course trickle-down and supply-side economics have been debunked and so this is nonsense. Boehner is manipulative and a hypocrite – actually helping the oil companies by handing out their campaign checks for them right there on the house floor (you couldn't make this up) before a related vote.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • mark

      Trickledown is as much as a Democrat theory as Republican. In fact, the person who originated it was another Catholic, JFK, not Ronald Regan. JFK was for cutting taxes, but today Democrats are not. Rather, the new Democrat trickledown is to raise taxes and then swiss cheese them with millions of loopholes to force earners to spend in target segments of the economy. THAT is trickledown. This theory is the cornerstone of Keynesian ism and Democratic policy with respect to taxation.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • NonZionist

      Just as the body needs an organ that circulates the blood, the economy needs a mechanism that circulates the wealth. When the economy lacks such a mechanism, wealth and power concentrates in one place - the top. The bottom 99% then become too poor to buy the goods on the shelves. The collapse of demand causes a collapse in production, more unemployment, and a further decline in demand. This tailspin is fatal for the economy, just as the absence of a heart would be fatal for the body.

      If we can agree that this upwards redistribution and concentration of wealth is the problem, then we can suggest solutions.

      My suggestion is a universal fixed-rate sales tax supplemented by a universal fixed-amount rebate. The fixed rebate would make the sales tax progressive. E.g., The poor man who receives $10,000 benefits far more than the rich man who receives the same amount. Because the tax and the rebate would be universal, they would be non-intrusive: no loop-holes, no involvement by politicians.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  11. Bill

    Anyone who thinks that members of Congress really care about anyone but themselves and the affluent "friends" who send them big checks jusr has not been paying attention.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  12. nevers

    Obama isn't even an american, he wasnt born here, he paid millions of dollars to create a fake birth certificate

    May 12, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • joey

      mark, does photoshop cost that much ?

      May 12, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • awaysaway

      Millions is only what we charge Trolls for a copy of photoshop. Normal people get it for much less.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • JustJeff

      If you don't like Obama because he's black just admit it. Stop hiding behind this "birthers" crap.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • sinpolitica


      Are you so paranoid and delusional that you can't bear to see an African-American male be the president of the United States?

      May 12, 2011 at 12:18 pm |

    Catholic is a denomination that worships Christ and all his works. Boehner would call Jesus a socialist or a communist!

    May 12, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • awaysaway

      And a "radical" and "un-American" and a "danger to our way of life". No doubt about it.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Mike E.

      LOL This is why Glenn Beck hates churches so much. He hates any form of social conscious.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Bruce

      Worse than that, he would build the cross.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  14. From Florida

    Talking about abuse, what about the abuse done to children by priests for years? The catholic church is rife with pedophiles. The same kids they abused were from the poor, the defenseless and physically challenged kids. Yet they portray themselves as the guardian of those they took advantage of.
    I am a Christian but definitely not a catholic. I don't think Jesus would have anything to do with them if he was here.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • jamon

      would Jesus live in florida? hehe, have a nice day 🙂

      May 12, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Lang

      would Jesus love Jews and Christians? Sure, Jews killed him; Christians are abusing his teaching.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  15. chefdugan

    He may not be a friend of the poor but the Catholic Church is certainly no friend to vulnerable kids, especially little boys. We can help the poor when they get those perverts out of the priesthood.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • mcinfla

      because 2 wrongs make a right?

      May 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  16. truth

    FOX NEWS & MSNBC ONLY SPEW PARTISAN BIAS BS!!! Funny how everyone wants to complain about Fox News (rightly so...no pun intended) but never complain about msnbc, they only prove their hypocrisy. Liberals are hyporcites as are conservatives

    May 12, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • ARob

      CNN, Reuters and the BBC tend to have a more moderate, even stance. Of course, it doesn't matter because people who want to believe a skewed partisan idea will do so, no matter how many balanced views they are presented.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  17. Rex Raptor

    For a Party that tries to associate themselves as mostly Christians, the Republicans sure do like Darwinist policies.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Sanjosemike

      It's not a matter of social darwinism. It's a matter of personal responsibility. Please explain to me why it is MY responsibility to pay for the children YOU have that you cannot afford?

      May 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Cyber

      And what should happen to those children if the parents can't afford to take care of them?

      May 12, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • NonZionist

      Hello Sanjosemike. Please explain to me why it is my responsibility to pay for CEO Golden Parachutes at Goldman Sachs and AIG? Or why it is my responsibility to pay for the war against Iraq, a war I strongly opposed?

      May 12, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  18. Observer

    Here's Catholics blaming one of their own for preaching but not practicing the Golden Rule. Good for them.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • demo joseph

      OK – I take back what I said about the catholic church last week. There are some good leaders. They just need to speak up more about the evil of racist – Take a chapter from Olsteen's book. And they need to note that being catholic does not make you immune to racism. Boehner is a racist first and a catholic second. It's all about the color with him. He thinks the president is the wrong color. "even if the president and many others like him have family members that could make Boehner look like Osama's brother. After all he did say it wasn't a sun tan?

      May 12, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Pips

      The Pope himself praised Obama for trying to get universal health care passed. Christianity views health care as a basic human right that should never be denied for any reason. Everyone should have it free. Life is the most important issue Christians hold dear. Being against universal health care is being against everything they believe in.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Michael

      demo joseph: You are right – and (unintentionally?) funny too! "Boehner is a racist first and a catholic second. It's all about the color with him."
      Seeing as how Boehner is ORANGE, it must be hard to know whom to discriminate against...

      May 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  19. JDH

    Boehner is mentally unstable. But then again, most republicans are. Except maybe GW, uh no, wait.....Dick Cheney....uh, forget I said that....maybe ???????

    May 12, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  20. buke56

    Grandiose Opposition of Poor

    May 12, 2011 at 11:44 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.