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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. Peter E

    I love how republicans cite their faith as their guiding principle and say that America needs more faith and religion... but only as long as that religion doesn't impede on their tax cuts to the rich.
    They say that politicians should inject more Christianity into public policy... But then suddenly get outraged when somebody points out that Jesus and the apostles preached charity and help for the poor. But of course, republicans' have their own multi-millionaire popes, Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, James Dobson. THEIR riches and THEIR dictating public policy in the US is surely commendable... but if American Catholics and American cardinals dare say anything then surely they are hypocritic rich pompous turds...

    May 12, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • gerald

      Extracting money from the pocket of one person to give it to another by government is not charity. Especially when it imposes undue burden on generations to come. This society is out of control . Someone has to reign it in.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  2. matt

    Typical liberal CNN bias..........the hand outs have to stop for those able to work......all these lazy people that dont want to work are poor at their own doing.......

    May 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Peter E

      If the millions of Americans who lost their jobs in 2007-2009 lost it because of their laziness then surely republicans cannot complain about job creation, and Obama/Congress don't need to create any jobs whatsoever. It is all up to the lazy people to find jobs that are already there right? Bush and Obama are blameless, right?

      May 12, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Simon

      Most of Ruby Payne's work has been discredited...which by the way is what your statement is based on even if you don't know it.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • matt

      Peter....that is not the point and you know it......there are millions receiving these handouts who have no intention on working they are just abusing the system.... obviously there are those who need it but id bet the majority are just riding the cheese train

      May 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  3. Dorothy

    You used an incorrect word in this article. "Impetuous" should be "impetus." Please correct it.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  4. Steve

    Perhaps the learned professors at Catholic University should re-read church guidance on this matter, for clearly they do not seem to comprehend it:

    "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."

    It is appropriate for Speaker Boehner and others with political influence to use that influence by speaking in favor of aiding the poor. It can be argued that there is a moral obligation to help those who are unable to help themselves (Of course this definition is narrower than the definition used to determine who should receive benefits from the expansive list of government programs.) It is an exercise of both political and moral power to encourage citizens to freely aid their fellow man.

    But it is an exercise of "authoritarian" power to compel by force of law and under pain of imprisonment that all citizens support and finance government programs that in some manner, efficiently or otherwise, benefit the poor. The government should not through exercise of authoritarian power take by force the property of another for redistribution in a manner chosen by the government. This is not fair. This is not charity. This is not justice.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • NonZionist

      So you would prevent the government from building roads? After all, some of the people riding on the roads have not paid for the privilege!

      Well, please create your utopia elsewhere. Get back to us when you have something that actually works.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Concerned4Fla

      They're not asking him to be an authoritarian, they're asking him to be an advocate. Which he ain't.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  5. Burpee

    It's about time for someone to bring attention to Boehner's tactics. The Republicans have such a convincing lying narrative that even the most intelligent fall for thier crock-of-bull. Americans need to bond together and vote every-single Republican out of office. The Republicans are led by the Koch Brothers and other greedy Americans who seeks power. In addition, the Republicans bond together like glue. Eventually some reporter will be brave enough to report that the Repulicans are cult members. Even the Democrats disagree sometimes; but the Republicans band together like toy soldiers.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  6. aaron

    Hes friend of tanning beds tho LOL Catholics are double faced

    May 12, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  7. mike

    Like many reoublicans, boehners religon is only for public posturing purposes – he's a fake Christian. If you interviewed him, limbaugh would claim to be a Christian as well, but if you were to listen to his show...not so much.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  8. Seenen

    My God, Christians acting like Christians. I wonder if Rush Doughball has ever read the New Testament?

    May 12, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  9. capnmike

    This Repiglican sell-out is no friend to ANYBODY except big corporations, fatcat executives, and Wall Street thieves. He and the rest of his cronies could give a rat's patoot about you and me.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Tam

      I've seen "rethuglican" and "repiglican" and would like to add "repuglican" to the mix!

      May 12, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  10. Andrew

    There is nothing catholic or christian about any politician, republican or democrat. They are rich, they get lots of money from big corporations, and at the end of the day, they vote for nothing that may make a poor person's life better. And if they can, they'll take a poor person's bed away if it means certainty that the big donor's money does not decrease. Politicians have nothing to gain by helping the poor. Boehner's no exception. He's voted every time to screw the poor, and he'll continue to do so while smiling and saying how Christian and American he is and how the American people are sick and tired of Obama's big government. Meanwhile, he gets to hand out checks behind the scenes. He doesn't have the guts to do it publicly anymore.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • mike

      No, you're just trying to excuse bad behavior. Many rich people are genuinely religious, even some republicans. Many poor people are just a s fake, but because of the ability to potentally do good, we expect more from the well-off.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Andrew

      The concept of being rich and Christian is very anomalous. Jesus was poor. He rejected the idea of being rich. When the rich young man asked what he should do to follow Jesus, Jesus told him to "give all your wealth to the poor. Then follow me." If you are rich, well off or just plain middle class and a Christian at the same time. Congratulations on the hypocrisy. here are a few biblical passages:

      "it is easier for a camel to pass though the eye of a needle than a for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven"

      "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. "

      People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

      If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (NIV, 1 John 3:17)

      He who despises his neighbor sins, but happy is he who is gracious to the poor. (NAS, Proverbs 14:21)

      "Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. (TLB, Isaiah 58:10-11)

      May 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  11. kazz

    I'm gonna cry.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  12. Emily

    I am very proud to see this from CUA! I have long felt that many Catholics are quick to decry abortion, but the first to want to eliminate social programs. I also attended a Catholic University where we ministered often to the poor and needy. Religion is about living as Jesus would, with empathy, compassion, and most of all LOVE. It's so nice to read about something good with the church. Thanks CNN.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Concerned4Fla

      Every story in the Bible talks about him healing the sick, helping the poor, and encouraging others to do the same. The way some republicans twist that message is disgusting.
      Jesus cared about the poor.
      Jesus did not care about money.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  13. Matt

    The issue of abortion seems to have overshadowed any other issue in religious circles for so long. I'm glad to see other issues that hit on moral integrity being raised by the Christian community. It would be nice if babies born to poor families instead of being aborted had food to eat and a place to live! We need to be 'consistently pro-life" and care as much about post-natal life as we do about pre-natal life.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  14. silvershado

    Unlike the Vatican, the US is broke. Fourteen trillion on the Debt Clock- not including the debt obligation of Fannie & Freddie.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Jackobin

      Debt that was created by giving tax cuts to rich people and starting wars for oil. Eliminate tax cuts for the rich, not food for the poor.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Concerned4Fla

      Are we broke because of WIC programs or broke because of wars, tax breaks for billionaires, Medicare overruns, and major pork in the defense budget? Just this week, the pentagon said (AGAIN) that they have no use or desire for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Just this week, Congressmen who stood to gain from having Boeing and RR build these (useless) engines in their districts rammed through funding...FOR a PLANE ROBERT GATES HAS REPEATEDLY SAID HE DOESN'T WANT AND CAN'T USE! That's the issue–not only debt, but where debt comes from.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  15. disheartened catholic

    If the Catholic Church is going to stick its two cents into politics and the budget, then maybe it should look at itself. The Archdiocesan of NY is amongst the wealthiest in the nation yet they have closed down close to 40 schools in the past two years alone. If that's not the pot calling the kettle black, then I don't know what is.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Jackobin

      Debt that was created by giving tax cuts to rich people and starting wars for oil. Eliminate tax cuts for the rich, not food for the poor.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • mattmchugh

      Take it a step further: for over 1,000 years, the Catholic Church was the wealthiest organization on the planet. And while it routinely established missionary outreaches to the poor, it mainly used its wealth for its own growth. Today, its cash assets and political clout may be substantially reduced, but what it holds in property and other investments is incalculable. What it contributes to the mitigation of povery is decidedly more finite.

      In short, the Church criticizing Republicans for not caring enough about the poor (which I agree with) is a little like the biblical "man with a log in his eye pointing out someone else's splinter" scenario. At least in a broad, historical context.

      - mm

      May 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  16. Ricomalo

    Impetuous? Shouldn't that be impetus? (p8s2)

    May 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  17. faith

    Tell me why Paul Ryan, Catholic Republican would state this: "The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand," Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." ...

    Ayn Rand is a well-known atheist and believes completely in individualism and hatred for the poor. Ayn Rand is directly in conflict to Catholic teachings. She teaches that one should only love thyself, to do whatever it takes to win. Ron Paul, Rand Paul are also her followers. When will we learn that evil can take many forms even one that would make you think that only Republicans are pro-life and that is the only reason to vote for them. They USE the Catholic church and your conservative vote to give themselves POWER. Which is EVIL at the very core. They do not care about anyone but the rich and getting richer. How can they take money from the Koch brothers, take away from the poor and give subsidies to corporations and call themselves pro-life. Many more Catholics are starting to take notice, I cannot morally vote for a pro-abortion candiate but will not vote for those that say they are Catholic and do not care for the weakest in our society.

    To demonstrate my point... many catholics voted for Ronald Reagan to office because he was "pro-life". He in turn put Anthony Kennedy in the Supreme Court. Anthony Kennedy is a Catholic. When given the chance to overturn Roe vs Wade, Anthony Kennedy voted to keep abortion legal. In 1992, he joined O'Connor's plurality opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which reaffirmed in principle (though without many details) the Roe v. Wade decision recognizing the right to abortion under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The plurality opinion, signed jointly by three justices appointed by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, ignited a firestorm of criticism from conservatives. Kennedy had stated at least as early as 1989 that to uphold precedent he might not overrule Roe.[19] At the same time, Kennedy reportedly had considered overturning Roe, according to court insiders, but in the end decided to uphold restrictions without overturning precedent.[20]

    Keep in mind, during Reagan's tenure we had more abortions occur due to the increase in poverty levels related directly to the very platforms that Boehner and his party promote. Finally some Catholics speaking out about the inconsistency of Catholic politicans.

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

      Why would Paul Ryan cite Ayn Rand as inspiration? Well, he was speaking at meeting to honor Ayn Rand. If he'd been at a meeting honoring Reagan, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Galileo, he would have found a way to mention them.

      Politicians try to win people over. That's not cynicism; it is, by definition, what they do.

      - mm

      May 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • NonZionist

      Excellent points, faith!

      Reducing poverty reduces the number of abortions. But the Republicans aren't interested in THAT. Instead, they USE the abortion issue to con people into voting for them. Once in office, they promote the poverty that leads to more abortions.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • D Tran

      Maybe you need to vote for Nancy Pelosi, who is a catholic, and support all issues that "supposedly" help the poor. But against any legistative that is pro-life and pro-family. I have seen people on welfare and getting the government checks. They don't want to work because they can free money from the government. They know how to work the system. Majority of these "poor" people put themselves in that position. I came to the US without knowing the language; after years of hard work, I am doing great. Because of the "poor." Yes, there is people who need help, but there are people who don't want to do anything, but to accept free check from the government. These people would learn how to work real fast if they are living in my former country, Vietnam.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Andacar

      I'm right there with you. I see this happen in my own Episcopal congregation all the time. All the Republicans have to do is hold up the scarecrow. "Look! He's a pro-choice liberal! Booga booga!" And everybody freaks out and runs to the GOP. We have a few dogmatic birthers and folks who will vote for anybody who says they are "pro-life" (and I'm very much against abortion by the way). And the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.

      "If the poor would rather die," said Scrooge, "then they had better go and do it, and decrease the surplus population."

      May 12, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • TC

      We have spent trillions of dollars on the war on poverty. There are truly people in need, the problem is when government tries to help the waste fraud and abuse associated with these programs is more than republicans can stand. We are running a 1.5 trillion a year deficit. The idea that we can't go back to the budget of 2008 is just plain stupid. The far left is not about helping those in need. They are for controlling people. They simply use that mantra to take advantage of people like you. Republicans are not FOR the rich and AGAINST the poor. They just realize that offering more programs actually makes the problem worse not better. Look at Welfare reform. Look how giving more money to people for each child caused the black community to have generations of single mothers with multiple children and no father. This is what republicans realize about govt. programs. We are not ruthless people. In fact republicans give more money to charity than Dems.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  18. Wild Bill

    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."

    Huh, preists and pastors talking about Jesus' teachings. Imagine that!!! Let me know, Rush, when you've actually read the Bible, then come talk to me...

    May 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  19. Sean Russell

    They threaten anybody that doesn't vote republican; now they have a bunch of crooks who want to give more money to big oil and take it from the working people of this country. They got exactly what they deserve.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  20. conradshull

    Key word to understand this article's context is not "Catholic", but "professors".

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

      I was wondering when someone would bring up the 'educated people don't understand' argument. I was waiting for Sarah Palin to comment but it seems you jumped right in there.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • dzerres

      I'll take a "professor" over a Sarah Palin and a Michelle Bachmann.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • HUH?

      Excellent point Conrad! Because we all know there's no way these "edumacated" people can test their theories in that classroom, so let's try it in the real world...it should work, right? And to the folks that would rather take these "professors" over us real world folks, you're either very insecure about your own intelligence and can't think on your own, or you are a part of the very same classroom smart, real-world-dumb class.

      May 13, 2011 at 7:32 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.