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. jim

    i am catholic and i can tell you that this group of people admonishing Boehner doesn't speak for me.....

    May 12, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Maryann


      So as a catholic, you are not opposed to starving the poor?


      May 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  2. Art

    Republicans are caught up in the webs of prejudice, discrimination and social injustice. Their orientation have a reverse definition of the poor, which is the poor are lazy people full of excuses with an unending crave for handout. Instead of looking at a universal definition of the poor as those who have been deprived, stereotyped and discriminated against, they are on a mission to make the cripple to walk; the blind to see forcibly; the deaf to hear by knocking their ears with sledge hammer; the dumb to speak by inserting tube in their esophagus and the list goes. That's the path to self-reliant. Here are my questions to the Catholic professors: where have you have been? Why are just taking the veil off the Speaker's face? He's just the messenger.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  3. ronjon

    Facts tend to mess up some people. There are more poor people today then when President Obama took office. Does that mean he hates poor people too?

    May 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  4. thrice lice

    why does my head itch so much?

    May 12, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  5. abby

    Everything that I have heard from the GoP is contrary to the teachings of Christ who said:

    For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. Matt: 25:35-46

    May 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • gerald

      You are confused . The Bible does not say the governement needs to do it. Charity is not about governments taking money out of people's pockets to give to some other persont. There is no love in this kind of "charity". It is a counterfit!

      May 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Joe

      That is all fine and good. And it is correct, although it is not the government's responsibility. All the Government needs to and has to do it provide the framework such that the rest of us can help these people if we so desire through our churches, neighborhood groups or as employers and friends. Jesus is right. The government cannot continue spending money at this rate.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      Abby, don't confuse individual acts of kindness and charity with state social level programs. This is not what Christ was trying to setup. The typical liberal is a secular Marxist that wants to eliminate religion and uses people like you as voting tools. They will eventually slash your throat if you let them. Wise up!

      May 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  6. Mike A.

    This may come as a surprise, but there actually ARE conservative Catholics who believe that the federal government shouldn't be involved in everything. Many matters are just better left to the states, counties, municipalities, churches, and charitable organizations.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  7. Barking Alien

    This is exactly why organized religions should stay out of politics! Churchs try to judge political issues based on moral and religious doctrine and it just does not work. Christian "values" voters have done the greatest disservice to the political process by being one issue voters. They vote for the "right to life" candidate no matter how big of a crook he is. Jesus said my kindom is not of this earth. Religious voters should take this message to heart and keep religion out of politics.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  8. KevyKev


    What ASTOUNDS ME IS, ALL these Joe the Plumber "types" that actually STILL align themselves with the GOP and think they really give a damn about THEM...!

    May 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • abby

      simply amazing, isn't it? however, the GoP is very, very good at propaganda and have an entire net work (faux news) to spew their lies....

      May 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • abby = hypocrite

      and msnbc doesnt spew lies? give me a break u leftist hypocrite (fyi im not conservative)

      May 12, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • WDinDallas

      Abby....and what is NBC, ABC, CBS and MSNBC? Thank God you people are dumb as a board.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • CM

      Key difference (as fox news fans themselves like to point out): pretty much nobody watches MSNBC because the people whose views it's designed to reinforce are smart enough to know they're just getting a 'yes man' newscast. That's why they prefer the Daily Show where they can get a laugh with the "news." Fox has millions of viewers who all believe without question everything the network says.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • dan25ny

      Please explain how Abby being a hypocrite would have any bearing on whether Fox News is a propaganda machine. Even if other networks are left-leaning propaganda, Fox News still is right-leaning propaganda.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  9. WDinDallas

    The problem here is that Catholic scholars and clergy have a screwed up vision of social justice. They believe in wealth redistribution, which is fine on a voluntary basis with Church funds. This has no place at the State level. They have forgotten why the Church no longer owns half of Italy.

    The next issue is using Church funds to help illegal aliens. This should not be allowed, if the Church wants to help these poor then do so in their country, not illegally in ours. Again, see above....don't mess in state matters.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  10. ronjon

    The only agency stealing more money world wide than governments is the Catholic church. How many catholic presidents ? One. How did that work out ? What do Catholics and Democrats have in common? They hate everything about you if you are not one of them. Guess that explains the stupidity of this article.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • CM

      We don't know how it turned out because a few hate-mongers like you banded together to shoot him in the head.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  11. Rachael

    Wow! I actually support the Catholic Church on something! It is hard to understand how anyone who claims to be a Christian can support such drastic cuts for the poor. What ever happened to Christian Charity? Christianity isn't just a badge to make you more electable. People, including politicians, should practice what they preach and actually ACT like Christians, if they claim to be one. I am always amazed at the number of church going "Christians" that do not walk the talk and yet many who never set foot in a church actually do live moral lives of charity and kindness. Mr. Boehner does NOT have my vote. His policies and those of his fellow Republicans threaten to return the worse of the recession while the rich get richer!

    May 12, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Joe

      You are correct, what has happened to charity. The government is not a charity and should not be funding programs that are charitable. It is these people (the poor, whoever they are) get off the public money and get on the private train. I don't mean cut the people who for medical reasons (real ones) can't fully support themselves, I am talking about the able bodied scammers and lazy azzes that don't want to support themselves or their 9 ro 10 illigitimate children.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  12. johnnyb52

    Welfare is the god of the poor, they depend on it for everything. They are addicted to it. Generation after generation. When will it stop and who will put an end to it the right way? If the church ( not the roman catholic church) would do what its suppose to there would be no welfare. Th numbers prove it.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • WN

      What numbers? You obviously have no idea what a lot of people in this country are going through – people who have lost everything and just need something to help them get by until they get back on their feet. Do you believe all the media accounts of welfare queens? They are sensationalized media accounts.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  13. Gerald F. Devlin

    If a fair summary of the New Testament became a goal then The Sermon on the Mount (Mathew 5-7) and & “The truth shall set you free” (St. John 8:23) would present as center tenants of Christian faith. Compare with what Senator Boehner states publicly as his summation of what the Republican what to do.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  14. myklds

    I think Boehner failed to realise was, the budget of "welfare programs and medicaid" was most if not all taken from unemployment tax and premiums paid by employed individuals.

    Individuals who are now using welfare food stamps and medicaid are either employed in the past or might be employed in the future. Or, they have their parents, husbands or wives who are or have been employed and paying those taxes and premiums. Hence, technically, welfare and medicaids are not "freebies".

    Should welfare programs and medicaids budget be cut, unemployment tax and medicaids premiums must follow through or alternately and proportionally reduced. Otherwise, self-serving politicians who proposed or support such elitist bill, don't deserve a single vote from their consti-tuents.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  15. John/kc

    The next time the church asks for donations for the poor, play republican and don't give a dime.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:02 pm |


      May 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  16. ronna

    Not enough help for the poor and yet the Pope lives in a castle fill with gold etc..,

    May 12, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  17. FriendOfCatholics

    My mother is Catholic. She says it is her Catholic values that compel her to be a democrat. Catholics value social justice and care of the underserved. They also oppose abortion; but with the same vehemence they oppose the abandonment of unplanned children to a life of poverty and despair. Don't say you care for babies until you are ready to step up and support the ones that no one else cares for.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Tony

      So she supports people who would rather murder their unborn children rather than give them up for adoption. If your mother is Catholic, she should not be taking communion with the mortal sin that is on her soul.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • FriendOfCatholics

      And you should not be judging. You are not God.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • fofo

      My question to your mother would be, how come you are against abortion but don't care about the well being of an unwanted child.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • mary

      Tony, that is not what she said. She said they oppose abortion but also don't want to see unplanned children end up in homes where families can't take care of them. Please reread the paragraph.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Rachael

      I respect your Mother's position. I do believe in legal abortion, but would NEVER have one myself. However, what I don't get is people that are anti-abortion and then don't support programs for the unwed mothers and the poor. Why would you want children to be born only to suffer from neglect, poverty and even abuse? I do have lots of respect for people that are anti-abortion but also support programs that help poor children and families succeed. That is a position with integrity.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Tony

      This isn't the gates of heaven, FriendOfCatholics. It's a comment board; I can judge if I see it necessary. And your mother is the typical hypocritical non-Catholic who claims to be Catholic. If you support the murder of unborn children, you're not Catholic, period.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • james

      and you tony are the stereotypical hyporcritical Christian who judges everybody. I'm glad you live a perfect life, donk.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Robert

      Tony –

      I can't quite hear what you are saying. Perhaps if you would come down off your pedestal I may get it.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Babs

      Thank you. GOPers al always ready to slam tenn pregnancy and the first to defund planned parenthood.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Tony

      Yes you all are right. I like to judge because it makes me feel better about myself. I am not happy with myself on the inside so criticizing and judging others makes me not think so lowly of myself.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Robert

      Tony –

      Well at least you admit it.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Maryann

      Tony – well, then, maybe you should re-think your position on religion. Some common sense in that area may uplift you. Just open your mind and don't be afraid to embrace reality.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • FriendOfCatholics

      Most awesome Catholic I know of besides my ma and grandma: Stephen Colbert

      May 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  18. fofo

    This is my response to Limbaugh’s dim comment: No Mr. Limbaugh, we only talk about Jesus Christ to point out your hypocrisy on the subject of being good Christians and the vessel of morality.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  19. god

    Religion is a hoax, your all sheep ... you dont need a fictional account of something from 2000 years ago to tell you whats right or wrong, or good or bad... Stop using a crutch and live your own life.

    May 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • johnnyb52

      If it's a crutch, I thank God for it not you.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm |

      Your statement sounds good in a few parts, however, the bad news is that someday we dies, then what? What if you are wrong? Better safe than sorry. I don't see any harm is supporting the poor; it should be honored under any civilized humane ideology

      May 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm |

      We are his sheep and the Lord is our Sheppard. What are you? You believe in …____? I believe in God. So let us believe and you do your own thing. It all ways amazes me how unbelievers care so much what followers of Christ do. You profess you don’t care/believe in “Hoax” then why are you so vocal?? Nobody is forcing you to accept Christ as your savior.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Babs

      dear god (Note the small g)
      I intend to live my own life. It will include faith in GOD. Now, you go live YOUR own life.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Tim

      Ok. The only thing I don't get is how you people convince yourselves on a daily basis that GOD cares for you or has a plan for you or whatever. I was raised in a southern baptist church. I stopped believing due to a collection of common sense. When my kids would ask me stuff about Christianity, I felt really stupid telling them all the BS I had learned all along. People need to wake up. That is why we are becoming vocal. I read a story about a coach who can't coach anymore. He has Lou Gherig's disease. He says he knows there is a reason (like him being a mentor), and that it is part of God's plan. Just answer this. Do you really believe, GOD was in heaven one day, and he said "there are some kids in Pryor, OK that need a good role model. So coach, sorry but you get to spend your short life with Lou Gherig's disease. I know it's not really fair, but there is a group of junior high basketball players that need a lesson."

      May 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  20. deb0155

    The Catholic Church should not be admonishing anyone about anyone's lack of help for the poor. I don't see too much help from the Catholic Church at all for the poor. They still expect donations every week from their parishoners in low income areas, the Pope does absolutely nothing at all while he lives in his gold palace at the Vatican, the Church is horrible to the nuns who have sacrificed, while the Catholic priests have wonderful retirement packages, they own property (i.e., condos on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago), they retire to Miami, they drive beautiful cars, etc., and they don't pay taxes!

    To The Catholic Church: Don't criticize anyone until you have a proven record!

    May 12, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Kudos

      Love your post. And I think the reason priests love the poor is so they have more easy access to the boys whos parents are poor.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • mary


      May 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Brad

      Well Deb, get your facts straight. The Catholic Church feeds more people than any other organization on the planet. Keep you anti-Catholic protestant crap to yourself. Get the fact straight before you shoot off big mouth.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • JohnRJ08

      Years ago, I traveled to Rome on a vacation. During my time there, I went into a small church called St. Gesu. It is the church that holds the remains of St. Ignatius Loyola. When I walked into the church, there was only one person inside - an elderly man wearing an old wool coat that had holes in the elbows and thread handing from the sleeves. He was on his knees, praying to the huge statue of Loyola that was standing atop the sarcophagus. Within that small alcove was easily millions of dollars in gold, silver and various gems. Beyond the statue were simulated rays of the sun stretching out several feet from the head, all in solid gold. I kept looking back and forth, between the poor old man and the treasure that was only a few feet from him. It made me sick. Then, I went on the fabled "Vatican Walk" inside the Vatican. That's when I got downright ill. The church is surrounded by the sick and the poor, while it harbors these vast collects of gold, silver and jewels. The Catholic Church has no place criticizing ANYONE, even John Boehner, who probably deserves that criticism as much as anyone has in the history of Congress.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • ???

      Catholic charities are often the only available assistance for some people.

      While the Catholic church has done some horrible things in the past, and even in the present, nobody can accuse them of not helping those in need and have a leg to stand on.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Maryann

      I would love to know where Brad gets HIS facts from. What is the source for that information? If it's the Catholic Church, then I wouldn't put much stock into it.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • ???


      Actually he is right if you add 'non-government' to it. Technically it is one of the few organizations to be in the position to do so. It hasn't always done it despite being in that position. Again it isn't a perfect organization but it does do good things on occasion.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • rosiepetunia

      There are crooks in every money collecting origination, hundreds of thieves touting religion. Boehner is joke. He was taped crying to a 6th grade classes and has since stated that "he cant talk to the youth of America because the American dream of owning a house within their life time is nearly extinct". Funny, how that was done by his GOP parties deregulation practices from the past 30 years of republican presidents. Even Clinton got into the game of fleecing americans with Greenspan economics....and a simple, sorry after the fact with a, oooppps "I couldn't foresee the outcome and I apologize" by Greenspan.

      Limbaugh saying that Liberals site Jesus, Please, liberals don't believe in the mix of religion and state. As I recall it was Bush Jr and very rarely Bush Sr who broke the sanity that JFK fought to keep out of the terms of politics.Religion is private and should not be used as a tool for votes.

      Who is Limbaugh anyway to site religious ideology when he was pill popping and using fake prescriptions to get them just a few years ago......these guys are jokers!! They lie, steal and cheat and people still listen, what are we coming to.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Mike A.

      deb0155, I don't love your post - because it's mostly wrong. Some priests are well off financially, while others not quite so much. Many if not most contribute to their own retirement. And unless they belong to a religious community, they have as much right as anyone else to use their personal income as they see fit, including the purchase of property. The law is also quite strict as to which items are exempted from tax. I don't know about the diocese in your area, but most of the priests in my area drive fairly ordinary cars, and that includes the bishop and his vicars.

      Perhaps you should spend a day or so in a local parish office and see just how much time a parish priest spends working every day - especially if he happens to be the pastor. I work as a full-time professional, and was quite humbled when I saw all the phone calls, late night emergency calls, hospital visits, long days, and continual decision-making and administrative work having little to do with official priestly duties. Not to mention having to continually put up with all the raised eyebrows and child abuse stigma everywhere they go.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:39 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.