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. TheRealDeal

    It has been my experience that most folks with money look at those without as insubordinate. Most with money have a great deal of pride. Nothing good comes from pride. Pride has proven to be one of man's worst enemies.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • sjenner

      Pride comes from many things, not just wealth. It comes from any who feel righteous in their current state. I've met prideful poor people and humble rich people. Greed ultimately is the worst of sins in my experience. It fuels everything else. Confiscating wealth only makes tyrants of those with the power to confiscate, the government officials who then assume the power to give or hold back, to confiscate or let stay. There is no cure to the human condition. The Founders hit on the best default: let people keep what they make, the fruits of their labors. By all means tweak and add safety nets. But fooling with the underlying foundational principals of our society will result in far worse consequences.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  2. sjenner

    Medicaid comprises one of the largest parts of the Federal budget, and one of its fastest growing components. It is one of the reasons why our Federal budget is so far over-sized, and why our nation is trillions deep in the red. It is certainly not the only cause. Medicare and a bloated defense budget have also added greatly to the problem, as have other large scale Federal initiatives. But this talk of "zone of protection" would give sacred sanction to a program that is flawed, broken, and at current rates, simply unsustainable. It certainly doesn't help the poor if our country slides off into the sea. None of these programs are sacred cows. They must be tackled as the trouble makers that there are. They are bloated, inefficient and way more expensive than they need to be. We can deliver the same result with lower costs, and better long term outcomes for those benefited by them. That means having a debate and discussing different options. Not throwing the Magisterium of the Church over programs here, in the U.S., on which Rome has neither specifically spoken and which it doesn't understand (which we don't even fully understand at this time).

    May 12, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  3. Kris

    I have an Idea lets TAX the Hell out of the Catholic Church who push their political agenda ALL THE TIME. They have some nerve as a church giving out ethics advice. They have been no stranger to HORRIABLE things within their own church. Boehner in the Catholic Church says sooooooooo much.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • HUH?

      You might want to do a couple of things before you ever fly off the handle again...

      1) Do more research on what the Catholic Church has endorsed such as Obamacare (for which I totally disagree with the Church)

      2) Learn how to spell HORRIBLE. If you had gone to a Catholic school, you would have known.

      Just remember...Jesus fed thousands without help from the government. Jesus cured the ill without help from the government. The only help Jesus got from the government was in dying...THEY put Him to death. Do you see a trend here?

      May 12, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  4. Dave

    Most liberals, just like Hitler, don't have any problem with mass genocide. They're perfectly fine with killing millions of unborn babies. You can spare us your moral high horse, since he has no legs.

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

      Exactly when has the mainstream liberal movement in America endorsed genocide?

      May 12, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  5. Ed Galbraith

    Republicans (Boehner among them) have contempt for social justice, i.e., morality, but they'll argue until they're blue in the face and get teary eyed about tax cuts. It's a hideous juxtaposition. Reminds me of Hitler's voice breaking with emotion when he spoke of ridding Europe of Jews.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  6. Dave

    Hey CNN, to be fair and balanced, are you going to do another story on Joe Biden, and how he gave ~1% of his income to charities last year? I didn't think so.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  7. Leonore H. Dvorkin

    I agree that the Catholic Church and all other churches should pay taxes, too. We all need to pay our fair share: individuals, corporations, and churches.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  8. mel

    the catholics are not friends of the poor–I have been poor all my life, and they never lifted a finger to help me!

    May 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • MarylandBill

      Mel, Really? Are you sure they haven't lifted a finger to help you? So we ignore the thousands of soup kitchens, shelters, clothing drives, emergency rent assistance, and various other services that charities associated with the Catholic Church provides simply because you personally have not benefited?

      May 12, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • HUH?

      The Lord helps hose who help themselves.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • HUH?

      BTW...I would think those that are TRULY poor would not have access to a computer, let alone the internet and CNN.com. Maybe your spending habits need to be examined?

      May 12, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  9. HUH?

    Since when does a group of 70 Catholics become spokespeople for the enitre Catholic community? I am a born and raised Catholic, and I find it apalling that these people would cast judgement on Speaker Boehner. And to anyone who continues this tired rhetoric of "Grandma eating dogfood", just shut up because you know that is hyperbole. I would venture to say that REAL Catholics go out and do for themselves without the help of government, then directly help those in need, again, WITHOUT help from the government. Yes, Jesus fed the hungry...but with no help from the government. Yes, Jesus cured the ill, but without help from the government. Oh, but Jesus did eventually get help from the government...THEY put him to death! Do you see a pattern here?

    May 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  10. Leonore H. Dvorkin

    Vote Democratic. Help send this man and others like him (those with no compassion for anyone but the rich) to the garbage heap of political history, where they belong.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • HUH?

      Yes! Because life is SO unfair with these Conservatives in charge! People may have to find jobs, and pay their bills on their own! This country has never been through anything like this before! I mean, how can we recover from 9% employment? I know there was 12% unemployment under Carter, but this is NOW! OMG! I think I'm going to cry!!!! Life is so tough and unfair!

      May 12, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  11. Dave

    The liberal 2012 political campaign spin machine hard at work. This is CNN (and MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NYT etc). It's getting a little obvious, guys. You may want to tone it down abit.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  12. lolo

    This is not news. None of the republicans or tea partiers care about the poor. I have said it once and I will say it again. Most of these wingnuts are on the government roll and do not want anyone else taking anything from them. Everything that they are against, they are doing behind closed doors and pretending that they are devout christians. Their behavior for the past two years have been unbelieveable, hypocritical and racist. The real Americans are waking up. Where are the jobs that they promised. They are not going to do anything until every middle class citizen has lost everything. There followers need to to wake up and vote these knuckle heads out.. because as soon as they get what they want from them they will be dropped like Sarah Palin was. She will never run, because the good old boy network has told her not too.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  13. Linton Dawson


    Liberals seem to feel the need to demonize and distort everyone they disagree with rather than try to understand even if they don't agree.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |

    you mean like calling people Marxist? Or maybe Facsist? Or maybe "He's black, he can't be 'Merikan!"

    Let's see, then there is: "Libtard", "DemocRATS", "Baby Killers", "They want to sing kumbyah with tahrists", "pot-smoking, tahrist-loving libtards", "lazy libs", "bedwetting liberal", "tree hugger", "Socialist",....to name jsut a fwe from your ilk!

    May 12, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • ArizonaYankee

      Sadly the OP is correct. Obama, and this administration has pretty much destroyed any opportunities to get anything done. Reid and Pelosi have significantly hurt the Democratic Party, and as for the name calling, well that goes on with both sides. But reality is that after all this time, It is not Bush's or Clinton's fault. This President is a fast talking, lier and not at all believable....It not about Repubs, or Democrats, it's about integrity, which is totally lacking in this administration. Boehner isn't half bad as you make him out to be, but you are apparently so biased you don't know the difference...BTW, This Catholic church has a major problem with pedophile priests, so they really ought to shut to he11 up.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Tom C

      Arizona Yankee: Yes I do admit that there are priests that are pedophiles and they should be dealt with. There are also many teachers, politicians, coaches, and relatives that are pedophiles. The problem is that, generally speaking people do not call all teachers pedophiles, but they will clump all the priests together and label them as pedohiles. Why do you bring this into this discussion?

      May 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • BR

      @ ArizonaYankee – Quite the opposite…they got an enormous amount done in spite of the Reps. Reid and Pelosi have their issues as does the Dem party as a whole, but at least there is no equivalent of the T-Ba&&ers splintering their position.
      I don’t recall lefties spewing Hitler references across the aisle…birther horses**t, etc.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • BR

      @Tom C – I disagree with most of ArizoneYankee’s diatribe and the ped reference is a bit out off topic, but the difference is that in the secular world the system is geared to protect children when something like that is discovered.

      The church’s system is designed to protect the reputation of the church by protecting the offender.

      In the secular world people go to jail and await trial.

      In the church, until extraordinarily recently, they get shipped off to a different parish where they pick up where they left off.

      So while it is unfair to generalize priests as being peds…you can see from where the perception of it being a tolerated practice comes.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • gerald


      This country has a problem with peds. There are 38milloin who are believed to have been abused as children. The focus on ped priests is out of focus, not that it does not need to be addressed. What Church do you belong to. I guarantee it has as many peds as the cc.

      May 13, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  14. Fr. Ralph

    What do you expect? He's a Republican.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  15. Tyler Durden

    Maybe the Catholic Church can start paying their fair share of taxes to support the policies they endorse.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Marco

      real good point Tyler!!!

      May 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Kim

      That's what I was thinking about too. Robbercons jump up and down screaming about spending money on things they don't 'approve' of. Look at Planned Parenthood. So what about those of us who would rather not give tax exemption to religious conglomerations. They need to pony-up too. If the money is truly going to charity, then they would be off the hook. But if its going to buy fancy cars and big hats ... maybe they should be chipping in a bit.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Schae

      I totally agree. If Catholic leaders want to stick their noses in politics, then they should also have to pay their share in taxes. Oftherwise, Catholic leaders need to SHUT UP when it comes to politics.

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

      No way!!! They control enough as it is...no need to give them a financial stake. Keep them out in the land of makebelieve where they belong.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Tom C

      Us Catholics will pay when you decide to tax all churches and non profit organizations. Catholic Charities and other Catholic programs do more for the poor than any other organization.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • BR

      @Tom C – not likely. You do a lot, but you don’t get credit for things like a St.’s name being on a hospital. And it would be nice if a homeless person’s sandwich wasn’t held ransom in the name of Jesus.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  16. NRPJim

    All Bonner is worried about is the rich and reelection. If he truely has any faith, it is in greed!

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

    Steal from the poor, but keep giving huge tax breaks to Big Oil companies. Republicans.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  18. Rick

    The difficulty with caring for the poor of course is that if you take care of them too much they have little motivation to improve their economic situation. That said, if I have the choice to letting the rich get richer, which is the number one Republican priority, or helping the poor, I'll help the poor thank you very much.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  19. Bob

    It is impossible to be a moral Christian and a Republican at the same time. And will continue to be as long as the Retardican platform is "tax cuts for billionaires while grandma eats alpo and the poor sleep in the gutter to pay for it."

    May 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • ArizonaYankee

      With Obama in there, you and the millionaires will all be eating alpo.....We are broke Moron, let the POOR get of their axx's and work, or let the Catholic church pay for them.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • RF

      ArizonaYankee you are in the same boat as Boehner. No jobs = POOR people. It's amazing how clowns like you can spout generalities GET A JOB! and think there is no problem in this country other than lazy people.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Monika

      To Arizona Yankee, there is so many reasons the poor aren't working - because of disability, age, lack of education, the difficult economy, the effects a culture of poverty has on a person...But you don't really want to try to understand those reasons, do you? its easier to spout your ignorance with your 'get off your axxs' comment

      May 12, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • NopeADope

      The only problem, AZYankee, is that there isn't any jobs available from "supply-side economics". Funny, I seem to see more people calling themselves millionaires while even more people stand in the unemployment/welfare line.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  20. awaysaway

    Don't pick on him – he might cry. He looks like he is about to start weeping in this picture.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
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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.