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. You asked

    http://articles.cnn DOT com/2009-05-15/politics/obama.notre.dame_1_honorary-degree-commencement-president-obama?_s=PM:POLITICS

    May 12, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • You asked

      This one is for Angie also

      May 12, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Angie France

      One article from 2009???? Thats it

      May 12, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • You asked

      Its actually two if you count the one under your comment. But then again there is only one article on this story so it is 2x as many articles.

      It also proves you are making inflammatory unsupported remarks about CNN's motives.

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

    The elephant in the room is out of control capitalism that is killing the working and middle classes and shoving more and more money into the pockets of the top 1%...I predict a revolution in the next 25-30 years if the trend continues...and rightly so.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  3. Angie France

    CNN will publish any artilce to smear conservatives. I'm sure a lot of Catholics think that Obama is no friend to the unborn. Let's see that article......

    May 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • You asked

      http://articles.cnn DOT com/2009-03-24/politics/obama.bishop_1_human-life-president-obama-abortion?_s=PM:POLITICS

      May 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • tbrnotb

      Hey Angie...not too difficult to "smear" conservatives. look what you and your ilk have done to this country in the name of personal greed. Your days are over. There's a new enlightenment in this country. Buh-bye!

      May 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  4. person

    Tax Dollars To The Poor = Bad
    Tax Dollars To Those Who Already Have The Needs To Help Themselves If They Didn't Run Their Company In The Ground By Making Poor Business Decisions = The most conservative thing any American could do...you know, personal responsibility.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  5. Togoiii

    Amen, Brother.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  6. Natalie N.

    I hope they "BOO" his deserving butt at that speech! He's a disgrace to humanity with his continued butt-kissing to the wealthy and corporate coffers. Where are the jobs, Boehner? Obama is the only one calling on the corporations to start hiring now that their profits are sky high. And screw the oil companies and their crying about having to possibly pay taxes. They have record profits as well...enough already!

    May 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  7. Landshark

    Like much of what is practiced in religion today. It is all built on sand, which is not a solid foundation. It is easily forgotten over time and distance... Today the poor and unemployed are a easy targets.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  8. Bernard

    Its seems the Repubs only love the rich (give them more tax cuts) and hate the poor and middle class ( cut programs that benefit them). The 2012 election should be a crap shoot- it should not even be a close election. But it won,t be. The same people that the republicans are 'cutting' in their budget , will still vote republican. WHICH I REALLY DON'T UNDERSTAND -WHY? CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN THAT ? Thank you.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  9. Squeezebox

    Republicans like to talk about how "pro-life" they are, but when it comes to financial support for the sick and the poor, they fall far short. I'm against abortion, but I'm also against starvation! It's about time the elephants put their money where their mouths are!

    May 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • sharon

      Well good for you: you're pro-life and anti-hunger. But do you or your church have a reasonable solution to help all of the starving, poor, unwanted children in the world? Or the thousands of folks who struggle to support themselves because of the psychological damages caused by child molesters within the church? Of course not, and these questions are largely rhetorical. But bee a good Catholic, keep pushing out thoses babies, and pray to G-d that He will help you to care for them all!
      Good luck with that. Sometimes, G-d just wants us to use the brains He gave us to choose rational behavior.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  10. Dave from GA

    Of course, Boehner does not want to help poor people. It was on his agenda a long time ago.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  11. TJeff1776

    I REALLY don't see how conservatives possess testicles enough to lecture America on fiscal policy. I honestly find it absolutely amazing . Both the 1929 and the 2008 financial crashes happened after eight(8) years of Repub rule. And
    more conser than just Bush were running around the Whitehouse and Congress SO we can't just hang Bush out to dry as
    some conser are trying to do. Between the "tax and spenders" AND the "Party fo tha Rich"- which way do ya turn ?

    May 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  12. Mick

    Republicans – killers, haters of the poor/black/whatever. Your rantings get really old and really unhelpful. I'm Catholic, Republican, and yes, conservative in most issues. The Church is WAY off base on this one. Jobs need to be created to help the poor and the rest of us.
    We need to get out of debt....with tough, but necessary cuts. I'm on Social Security. I'd give back some of mine if it were done on a strict percentage basis. I'd pay more (than I already am) for Medicare.
    What would you whiners be willing to do?? It's time to put up or shut up!

    May 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Bernard

      get out of debt that the repubs put us in. Wake up, they cut programs and then give tax cuts to the rich.So you take from PETER TO GIVE TO Paul. You say you are Catholic ? please read the bible again.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Togoiii

      Hey Mick, I'm Catholic too. The letter is not from the Church. It is from mostly college professors who happen to teach at a Catholic (so-called) university and they may or may not be Catholic themselves (practicing or otherwise). The universities do not swear fidelity to the teaching of the Church. They have no standing as representatives of the Church and not even of the faith. Anyway, I don't think Christ asked Cesear to raise taxes and distribute them to the poor. Charity begins at home, not from someone else's pocketbook.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Robert

      One thing that always confuse me is why you fiscal conservatives are so supportive of cuts to programs that save us money when a five, ten, or fifteen year perspective is taken. Examples being education and WIC. Aren't those types of programs ideal for fiscal conservatism?

      May 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • tbrnotb

      So Mick knows better than over a thousand years of church doctrine. Nothing will get you repubs to part with a nickel for the benefit of the poor. Shameful!

      May 12, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Floyd

      @Togoiii – America is ‘home’.

      May 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  13. Jeremy

    If giving money to the poor eliminated poverty, why do we still have poor people? The fact is giving money to the poor the large majority of the time will just enable people to stay poor and live off the government/charity/whatever. When was the last time you walked down the street and a beggar asked you for change and you told them you cannot give them $1 because you gave the government $1 to take care of them...they should go down to the courthouse get their $1 of assistance.

    People believe it's the government's job to take care of the poor because they don't want to take the blame themselves. If there were no government handouts and your elderly neighbor froze to death in the winter because they couldn't afford heat, they'd have to look in the mirror and realize it was they killed grandma by their own inaction. I'd much rather give grandma $100 to pay her heating bill in the winter than give $100 to the government and wait for them to take care of her.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'If giving money to the poor eliminated poverty, why do we still have poor people? '
      You can try to eliminate poverty but the aim of giving money to those that need it is not the whole process.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Leslie

      Just admit it- you're a conservative Republican.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  14. trevbo

    As a Catholic and a conservative I find it important to give to the poor on a regular basis, whether giving directly to my church, to Goodwill, or other non-profit agencies. It is never my position to force others to have portions of their income TAKEN and REDISTRIBUTED via the federal, state, or local governements.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Thats part of living in a society.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Patrick Lewis

      It's nice that you give to charity and all, but you live in a society that must fund it's agreed upon actions. Do you think we should pay for wars with charity? How about environmental protection? Charity can't effectively cover real broad problems. It never has, going all the way back to the dawn of civilizations and it never will. Charity only helps cover the gaps, it can't be social security.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  15. spoo

    social fairness is not charity. trying to equal those two different things is idiocy. social services are NOT opcional and should not be dependent on the will of people to donate money. charities are a complement to social services filling the gaps. Boehner and its cronies in the republican party are just puppets of the oil companies and other corporations to help them ensure they keep ripping off the american people. is sad to see how many fall in their game of making people feel ashamed for their right to live in a fair society by exploiting the anti communist brain washing that americans have been subjected by generations as result of the cold war. without taxes there is no goverment, and without goverment there is no country. it is like going back to colonial times, only the ones that control the money will prospere, the rest will serve and protect those with the money.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  16. Tony

    Like Red Skelton once said when asked how President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" was progressing. "We're doing great! Just last week we killed five hundred beggars."

    May 12, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  17. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    What's the big deal? Republicans don't believe in the teachings of Jesus anyway. You know...the part about feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, healing the sick, teaching the children, helping the elderly, and giving to the poor.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Get a Grip

      you got it exactly right, my friend!

      May 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      They claim those parts were liberal bias added during later translations.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • KenTexan

      Most Republicans contribute way more to the poor than Democrats and that is a fact. Conservatives prefer to help the poor with their own money instead of someone else's and THAT is the philosophical difference. Cut out the middle-man (the government) and feed the poor through non-profits and quit squandering tax dollars on the bloated, inefficient public unions, etc.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      If charities were enough KenTexan there would be no need for government programs but charity has never in the history of mankind ever been enough, and never will be.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Angie France

      Republicans DO want to take care of the poor, just not the people that won't work because they are too lazy or want to live off the government. And that is exactly the people that vote dimocrat

      May 12, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Converted


      Ahhh... the good old tricle down theory... Give the money to the rich and they will pay it down. I think this has been shown to be blatantly false. Give a rich man another million dollars and he will buy another million dollar home... boat... vacation...etc... It won't go to wages or charity. That can be shown by the changing social structure of america.

      As for a politician (especially republican) being a christian... in words only. As Jesus said a rich man getting into heaven is like a camel going through the eye of the needle... not likely!!!

      Repent and come unto Christ
      God Bless

      May 12, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • tbrnotb

      Texas dude...just more republican lies. Don't you people EVER give up? After 30 years of your politics running the country, just look where you and your ilk have brought us. You should be ashamed of yourself.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  18. etienne from ohio

    We can debate for years based on our opinions alone. But the bottom line for me is the final distribution of wealth. When 1% of our citizens own 45-50% of the wealth or 10% of the population own 80% of the wealth, do you think our economic system serves all? Check out how much wealth the top 1% owned when Ronald Reagan came into office and then when George W. Bush left office. Is it time we started taxing that "nonpolitical" sacred cow, the Church?

    May 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  19. AB

    Unfortunately I am not an Indian. I am from the West Indies and I am black. You can curse me out or you can observe and learn. I am a US citizen just like you but when I first came here I was at the lower bottom that anyone would ever get but I was train to be a hard working person instead of going to welfare. I had the opportunity to go on walfare but I choose the hard path and today I am a different person. I lived here longer than I lived in my home land. I paid more taxes than many Americans and it also hurt to see my taxes paying for a lazy person who failed to work.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Get a Grip

      please pass your insult along to the over 14 million americans who are trying to find a job... don't judge you moron.... I don't give damn where you're from or how many taxes you've paid, I've paid more and I fully support all efforts to help anyone and everyone work and move forward in life, apparently unlike you!

      May 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • H. G.

      AB, Well goodie for you, coming from the West Indies and all, blah, blah, blah. You don't embrace or understand the true meaning of being an American, at least a caring American. Feel free to take your condescending self away to live elsewhere and inflict your nasty, elitist views there, but don't imagine you will be anymore welcome there than you are here.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • AlGaN

      AB – Good for you! We need more Americans like you.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • BK

      Thank you AB for your contributions to America. Yours is a truly uplifting story.

      Why isn't the Catholic Church taking the lead on helping the poor rather than bemoaning the fact that some in Congress have gotten the message that we have no money left to help anyone?

      May 12, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • AlGaN

      Well except they should be white.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Ty

      Really, Tell me how much of your taxes goes to welfare programs? I work hard and pay taxes too, so what. To say that someone get aid is some how lazy and do not want to work is wrong. What country did you come from? If it is a poor nation, does than mean the people that are poor in your country are lazy? I know someone who was making 75,000 lost their job, and to get food stamps to feed their family. This person is educated and worked hard all their life, now needs help. This is what our country do, help others. Yes, there are going to be people that scam. The biggest scam if the banks not poor people trying to find a job to support their families. Welfare for farmers is a scam. You never know what can happen, you can have a lot one day and the next needing aid.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • AlGaN

      Some A$$ used my name. I did not make that racist comment.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • superfly

      Amen. Welcome to America brother. Our country was built by guys like you. Keep at it. F the naysayers.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Floyd

      @ BK – The Catholic Church and its congregation has for centuries taken the lead in helping the poor. Not one other single organization even comes close to the humanitarian efforts and charity of the RCC. Learn before you criticize.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  20. Kevin

    Boehner hates the poor in part because of his obedience to his corporate masters but I think more because of his own self-loathing. Deep down his resentment for the perceived unfairness of growing up bluecollar and having to take crappy job after crappy job to pay for college, etc has morphed into hatred for that lifestyle and those who live it.

    May 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Leslie

      Amen- preaching to the converted!

      May 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Nurul Aman

      True But it was expected other way around. Because of his tremendous struggle through poverty and hardship, he should be more sympathetic and supportive of the causes of the poor and elderly citizens. As an elected politician, that was his responsibility and commitment he supposedly given to the people during the campaign. It is very sad that he rather feed the greedy and rent seeking lobbyists and their abuse of economics. I think Mr. Boehner needs take Economics 101 class (if he has not taken yet) to understand that his effort to privatize Medicare will only raise the cost of medicare significantly and thus will bring more misery to elderly Americans. I hope he knows that except pretending otherwise to please his wealthy friends in Insurance business to make another monopoly and oligopoly business industry for the wealthy.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:20 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.