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. Ed Watkins

    As a Catholic I might give some consideration to the comments of professors, priests, nuns, et al. who parade their Catholicism if any can show they came foward to critic Georgetown University when it bowed to President Obama when he decreed a religious symbol must be covered before he would speak there.
    Ed Watkins-Portland Or.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  2. Elle

    Interesting that this is coming from the Catholic Church. As a Roman Catholic, I see much that the church does not do to help. We have to have welfare reform.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • WWJD

      I would like to know how much the pope spends on those drag-queen outfits that he parades about in.
      And what is with the pope mobile? No faith that he will be saved as he is sooooo holy.
      Jesus was not and will never be a catholic.
      catholics are pagans.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • gerald

      wwjd you remind me of when the woman anointing Jesus with expensive nard and Judas complained, saying the it should be sold and the money given to the poor. Check it out in John 12. Catholicism is the height of Christianity.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  3. ChokedCivility

    Not again!!!ARRGGHHH!!!!!!!! I'm dead!

    May 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • myklds

      @ChokedCivility...They are the lifeblood of this Blog. Better get use to it or find another blog or site which is free from people and pollutants that you've mentioned on your reply of my post above. That's if if you can find one. Good Luck!

      May 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • ChokedCivility

      I'm out of here! BYE...

      Better to read Mangga.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • myklds

      Be well.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  4. Tony

    Maybe I'm missing something, but if you are so against Representative Boehner because of his unjust policies against the nation's poor, then why in God's name are you paying him to speak at your university? If you fail to see the contradiction and the hypocrisy of these two acts then maybe you should confine yourself to religeous matters, like sending more people running from the Catholic Church (because of your preference for little boys) and into the waiting arms of a vengeful and growing Islam .

    May 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Thomas

      I believe it is the 70 professors who have the issue. Clearly the administration believes having Boehner speak is a feather in their zucchetti...

      May 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  5. john

    Its easy to criticize the guy who is forced to cut services/monies to balance the budget but the harsh reality is that we have huge deficits and cannot sustain our current spending. I don't agree with the details of all of Kasich's plans but at least he is trying to balance the budgets, which is priority #1

    May 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • NonZionist

      +( but at least he is trying to balance the budgets )+

      By supporting tax-cuts for billionaires? You must think we were born yesterday!

      May 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  6. RKW

    Perhaps if Catholics didn't push fellow Catholics to have so many darn children, especially among the poor, then there would be less poor children.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • WWJD

      You are a walking testament to more liberal abortion laws.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • gerald

      Ah yes, better dead then poor.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  7. NonZionist

    So we Americans in the bottom 98% are finally beginning to care about self-interest and economic survival? At last, we are getting tired of letting ourselves be divided and conquered by wedge issues! It's great to see!

    May 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  8. Glades2

    In the end that is what we will be judged about – what did we do for Him, as in the poor or marginalized person – it certainly won't have ANYTHING to do with wordly ownership, whether it be politcal or financial, so to the person who thinks they can buy or influence their way into Heaven – open your ears and LISTEN!

    May 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  9. Civil Union

    We will be fine without those nutjobs shoving their delusions and ignorance down our throat.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  10. d

    Just because he is in favor of cuts to social spending does not mean he doesn't care about the poor. let's have some intellectual complexity here, folks. if the government can't afford something, it doesn't mean that they don't think it should happen, they just can't pay for it. i'm in favor of completely cutting all funding for social services but i absolutely think that charities, churches and families should step up and take care of their own community. there will also be ways that private companies can pitch in and do their share. i fully believe that the free market will make sure that options will be provided for those who need food, shelter, healthcare, etc.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • ???

      WIC actually saves the government money. What is his excuse for cuting that?

      May 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • NonZionist

      +( they just can't pay for it. )+

      But they can always find trillions to pay for the war-profiteers and the Wall Street casino and the subsidies for corporations that send our jobs overseas!

      You guys blew your cover when you supported tax-cuts for the rich. How stupid do you think we are?

      May 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Tim

      And what planet did you come from?

      May 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • newsrell

      Conservatism is a contradictory. Conservative are people for themselves only. They are religious, but they are not for the poor, how can this be ?? So being religious is just for the ticket to heaven, for themselves, it's not for the good teaching of Jesus, helping the poor, the unfortunate. Selfishness running rampant.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  11. samot

    I am Catholic and do not have any issue with the conservatives position. Actually, I do not know anyone in my church that has any issue. This is just a headline grabbing story attempting to discredit both Catholics and conservatives.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • WWJD

      You and your fellow catholic money grubbing apostic sickos will be shot right to hell on the fast train.
      We have no problem other than yourself.
      Jesus was not and will never be a Catholic.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Maria

      Maybe that is because you belong to a conservative Catholic church. Try looking out to the rest of the world for a change.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • gerald


      Or maybe it is because money extracted from the hands of one to give to another is not charity. It is false charity and void of grace.

      WWJD, your bigotry aside Catholicism is the height and breadth of Christianity. Your too blind to see.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  12. Word Smith

    Paragraph 8: Should that be 'impetus,' not impetuous? Thanks.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  13. Limbaugh is a liberal

    The bottom 20% of this country owns/earns less than 2% of its wealth. But surely they are the greedy ones and we need to take it away from them, because THAT will help balance the trillions of dollar in debt that are over 80% of our economy...

    May 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • samot

      the top 3% pay 90% of all tax revenues collected by the Feds

      May 12, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • ???


      The real rate of taxes, after all deductions, on the top 5% earners is about 17%. The middle 40% have a real taxation rate of about 22%. So they are underpaying compared to their income.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • james

      samot –

      Some quick statistics: The top 1% of earners pay 21.20% of all taxes paid at an average rate of 24%, the top 2 – 5% of earners pay 14.55% of all taxes at an average of 18% (Top 5% pay @36% of all tax) The bottom 50% pay 3% of all tax collected at an average rate of 2.98%.

      See link for full discussion, and chart that holds format.

      Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_percentage_of_federal_income_tax_is_paid_by_the_wealthy#ixzz1MACw9Ajz

      May 12, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  14. Smarter Human

    The only people B0ner is a friend to are rich old white rethuglican cronies

    May 12, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  15. Veritas

    If government wanted to assist the poor it would provide a meaningful education and stimulate business to create jobs for the poor. Raising taxes on small business & the "evil rich" won't stimulate job creation.

    A poor person never created a job.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      Rich people aren't creating jobs either. Bush tax cuts were extended and unemployment was STILL at 9% in March.

      Wake up.

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

      If cutting taxes to the rich created jobs, we would not be in the mess we are now. Wealthy individuals and corporations have reaped record profits, and where are the jobs? Wealthy individuals do not create jobs either...demand creates jobs.
      Demand is created by the vast middle class having income to spend on goods and services.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Simon

      Herbert Hoover thought the same way you do about taxes.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • WWJD

      Are you the same VERITAS who posts on all the Gay Conservatives In America ~ GCA website?
      I don't understand gay conservatives ~ you support people who would have you executed if they could.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Joe Doctor

      Yes, the funny thing about raising personal income taxes on the wealthy is that it should encourage them to put more money INTO their businesses, because business expenses are tax-deductible. Then those businesses hire more people and the economy does what it should. But tax cuts for the wealthy just encourages them to buy more vacations and bigger homes at nearly zero net benefit to the economy. Reaganomics doesn't work.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • newsrell

      To promote education you have to start at the basics. Without enough food on the table, people would not prioritize education. The republican want to cut all these basic social programs, food stamps on women, children. On the record of education also, the dem is more on this than the rep.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Greg

      Enough of the statement "a poor person never created a job". To all of you who have repeated that statement I say this. Use your own mind and think about it before you say it as the original source must had never thought about it.

      It's the same thing as saying, rich people NEVER worked hard to get where they are! Because it was just always there since they were never poor? ALL rich people descended from being poor at some point and the path to that wealth needs to be replaced as it was present as a resource for today's wealthy. There is no reason why today's poor should be faced with an altered path compared to that of their predecessors. That path has been severely altered by using our freedoms coupled with capitalism with the poisonous addition of greed.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Brian

      This recession has taught us that the rich people don't create jobs, or else there wouldn't be 9% unemployment right now. The jobs are being created overseas in China where workers churn out products for a dollar an hour. Once again, Reganaomics fail. Making the rich even richer and hope they throw a bone to the poor people doesn't work.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  16. alex

    Only a small number of kennedy catholics think this way and have a narrow definition of the 'poor'. Don't ascribe this thinking to Roman Catholics.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  17. Mary

    As a student at the Catholic University of America, I am proud of these professors and members of religious life for writing this letter. Though a well-known commencement speaker is always exciting, I was displeased to discover Boehner's voting record on fiscal issues. These professors, priests, and nuns show a lot of integrity. Our university is firm about Right to Life issues and I'm glad to see that a large number are firm about other political issues related to our faith as well.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  18. WWJD

    The tan man only cares about his doonesbury tan, power, money, women, and special privilege.
    There are no poor or disenfranchised in tan man's world.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  19. TickerShock

    Boehner is of the 'I got mine, you go get your own' mindset just like most conservatives.

    May 12, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Myra Marmfrumpel

      And you would be one of the "You earned yours, now gimme some so I don't have to" socialists?

      May 12, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • NonZionist

      Hello Myra Marmfrumpel. Socialism seems to be working very well for the corporate, banking and government elite. So why not extend it to include the remaining 99% of the population? It's only fair!

      May 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • BDM

      Boenher is a "I got mine from you, because you needed to feed your kids and heat your home in the winter." Caring for others doesn't mean go broke, but have some empathy for those just barely making it in today's economy. Some of them were the "I got mine by working hard," until the speculators and banks destroyed their nest egg (and their economic lives).

      May 12, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  20. myklds

    Good to see that people, whether anti or pro, are beginning to realise that this is a matter of politics and economics rather than religion and denomination.

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

      Yeah..it's a breath of fresh air without the both side either Theists or Non-theists spewing pollutants of hate, bigotry and intolerance all over the belief blog.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
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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.