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. former altar boy

    thank goodness for men like Mr. Bohner. I was a former catholic who is a registered democrat. and i support cutting these programs. I am sick of bleeding heart LIBTARDS who want to help people on my back... and as far as these so called catholic professors, I will bet that none of them are true catholics , they are CINO, they are all just cafeteria catholics, and bend the rules to apply to them.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Simon

      'CINO' what a neat acronym. Did you come up with that on your own?

      May 12, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Floyd

      @former altar boy – “I was a former catholic’. Does that mean you are a catholic again? That is a very confusing statement. Clearly you do not have a valid point and credibility is gone.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • former altar boy

      Thanks for pointing that out to me Floyd, let me re phrase. I am a former catholic.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Floyd

      @former altar boy – I am a current one and seem happier than you are. I feel bad you are so bitter but hope and pray you find your heart. Times are tough on most. Point your anger at the greed of big oil and corporate thieves that provoked all the bailouts. They are the reasons why there is less for everyone right now.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • former altar boy

      actually Floyd, the reason there is less for the legal american taxpayers, is because of the LIBTARD democrats who insist that the people pay for the education, housing, welfare, medical, etc, of all the ILLEGAL's who come here....We are being fleeced and taken over and your happy??? lay off the juice floyd and get a clue.

      May 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  2. marisa

    Get your religious beliefs out of my government! They are not supposed to be there. It is illegal.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  3. squealy

    Well, even though I was raised Catholic I have to say I have never been enamored of the church's teachings. But, in this case, I say, good on them. Someone has to stick up for the poor and downtrodden, and I am glad they are taking this stance. As for Rush, well, he is becoming just a naysayer without any substance behind his rantings. To accuse the left of bringing up Jesus only when they want to convince people he was the patron saint of liberalism is hysterical. Jesus WAS THE patron saint of the poor, and we don't need to add "liberal" to that mix as it flies just fine without it. Not to mention that invoking the bible, Christ and religion is practically a right-wing pastime, and to deny it in this case is just as hypocritical as it might be for liberals to embrace it in this case.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Floyd

      Wrong. Plenty on the left are faithful Christians.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • gerald

      Yes, I would say there are some that in ignorance do the best they can are try to be faithful.

      May 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  4. ck1721

    If the church would encourage it's members to be charitable on their own, then they could be giving glory to God, rather than letting the Federal Government get it for their taxation and redistribution. The state was never designed to be a charity, the churches should be taking care of and building up those less fortunate.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Getagrip

      There aren't enough churches to help all the needy these days. 5% of the population in this country owns 95% of the wealth, that means 95% of the population only has 5% of the wealth to work with. In a perfect world the 5% that owns everything would be giving their money away to ALL of those in need, but it doesn't work that way does it? Heck, we can't even get them to let go of the Bush tax cuts! Do you have ANY idea how bad things really are in this country? Oh blah, blah, blah, why do I even bother?! March on Christian soldiers, march on!

      May 12, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • gerald

      Getagrip. Where do you get your number 5% owns 95%. It's 5% owns 63%..

      May 12, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  5. Getagrip

    I am angry. I am angry at Congress, more specifically any person in Congress who calls himself or herself a Christian and votes against policies and programs for the poor. What hypocrites! Jesus tried to teach us that our responsibility was to take care of the least among us; the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the disenfranchised.....on and on. Stop using the religion to get votes and then do the polar opposite of its' teachings!
    I am weary. I am weary of listening to the lies and half-truths spoken by government officials or wanna be's as if they were the gospel itself and treating anyone trying to make sense as the devil himself. I am weary of an American public that is all too willing to accept the lies and half-truths instead of thinking for themselves or calling themselves Christians too and are a too willing to demonize the very people they should be helping. I'm thinking Christ would climb down from that cross if he could see what has been done in his name.
    Please God, make it stop!

    May 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  6. Up Your Rear Admiral

    Catholic priests show their love for poor boys again.

    And no birth control means more uneducated masses to pull into the flock.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • AlGaN

      Sorry but they don't oppose birth control. They oppose artificial birth control. Natural Family Planning teaches birth control methods.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Simon

      If the church wanted to be consistent they would oppose walls or accept condoms as birth control. A wall is a barrier placed between point A and point B. It prevents anything from going from point A to point B. A condom serves the same function. If condoms are crimes so are walls.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  7. mageen

    Wow! Did not expect so much active response! I'm from that cohort who even Mother Teresa would consider poor. We worked like a team of dogs from childhood on to support ourselves and try to get to the next available level. Theones who helped the most in many ways were the ones who were poor like us. When seeking help that was available from the few tax based sources at the time we were invariably snubbed. Yup! See "elitism". We had to fight our way through and around. Like Boehner, a number of us made it but we never ever forgot where we came from and what we endured. Let me wrap this up with a quote from St. Ignatius Loyola: "Give and give again." Whoever you are at whatever economic level we all face the prospect of the "eye of the needle."

    May 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  8. DVoice12

    The Republicans represent the rich and are waging a war against the middle class!!!They want to cut medicare and medicade and education funding. But they are willing to stand up for Big Oil on $25 billion in tax loopholes. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And now the Republicans want another tax break for the rich.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  9. Dave from GA

    Oh... ATTENTION!!!!!! A wealthy man named Bob Smith just got admitted to emergency room. He is now staying at hospital. He is doing pretty well and he is expected to be discharged from hospital tomorrow morning. He is being charged $1.7 million. He has his $10 million on his savings account. Please help that rich man pay the hospital bill. Please send the tax-deductable $200 check to Bob Smith Hospital Bill Fund, P.O. Box 1983445, Dallas, TX 59223. Thank you for your attention.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  10. Kuwait

    On the last day, Jesus will say to those on His right hand, "Come, enter the Kingdom. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was sick and you visited me." Then Jesus will turn to those on His left hand and say, "Depart from me because I was hungry and you did not feed me, I was thirsty and you did not give me to drink, I was sick and you did not visit me." These will ask Him, "When did we see You hungry, or thirsty or sick and did not come to Your help?" And Jesus will answer them, "Whatever you neglected to do unto one of these least of these, you neglected to do unto Me!"

    May 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • AlGaN

      The Lord helps those who help themselves.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • squealy

      @ AIGaN. Yes, but you are making that ill-fated leap that always negates that argument. You are assuming that the poor are not trying to help themselves. You are assuming that without results, there has been no effort. You are believing the right-wing media when they say all of the poor are welfare cheats and pariahs because that is all they will show you, when in fact only a small percentage are.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      The Lord helps those who help themselves.
      That is nowhere in the Bible.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  11. Dave from GA

    Rich people need your help. Please send the tax-deductable $200 donation to the rich charity fund. Rich people will say thank you all. They need more money for a bigger renovated mansions and help their savings accounts grow more dollars.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  12. RichP, easton, pa

    You are idiots for calling him on the carpet, instead you should be getting the federal government out of the poverty fighting business, The war on poverty is over 44 years old and for all intents and purposes all it did was create an out of control bureaucracy that needs to be taken apart and labeled a bad idea for future generations. God protect me from do gooders that can tax at will.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      It probably helped a lot of people put food on the table as well but you go ahead and label it a failure if you want.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Jessica

      Rich, You do know that greed is one of the seven deadly sins don't you you greedy bastaard.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Dave from GA

      Rich... do you need any help from us? Do you need more money from us? It is our obligation to help rich people like you.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Eddy

      Jessica –

      That deadly sin wasn't meant to apply to everyone. Just the poor.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  13. hal

    "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle ,than a rich man to achieve heaven". "Trickle-down economics" is opposite to the teachings of Christ.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  14. Bobby Frank-Dallas TX

    He is beholden to the people that put him in office. They set the agenda and he follows them on whatever path it leads to. I think deep down he knows what right but when you are in a powerful job you listen the ones that bought you there. Yes i said bought cause that is what it is all about! If you don't like what you see then get out and vote next time to make a change.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  15. Eddy

    The first state run social service program in the modern era was created by a fairly conservative government.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  16. Busssss

    Hey, be nice we all know how easily he cries.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  17. wot

    Some of the statements on this are so full of irony and hypocrisy I want to cry. We are a Christian country but we believe that the other guy should always be helping the poor and that hurting the other guy is just part of life. We are one screwed up society right now and all the moral crusaders are DESPERATE remove the spotlight from this by talking about every other "moral outrage" they can think of. If you are concerned about morals in this country you should start with yourself!

    May 12, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • cyn507

      No, actually we're a country founded on religous freedom, something christians seem to forget. All are welcome here- christians, jews, muslims, wiccans, rich, poor, sick, old, young.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  18. evoc

    Duh....he's republican.

    May 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  19. RightturnClyde

    Catholic professors making $200K a year and donate ZERO to the poor. They sit an cynically take cheap shots at everything good .. and then blast the government for not doing what churches are supposed to do (not the government ). The government isn't a charity. Churches are charities - THEY are supposed to GIVE to the poor, run hospitals, teach schools, save the down trodden, cure the sick, visit convicts in prison (it's in Matthew ..are you Catholics?)

    May 12, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Catholic professors making $200K a year and donate ZERO to the poor.'
      and you got this info where?

      The government is not a charity but its purpose is the well-being of ALL its citizens. That means not turning a blind eye to those that require help .

      May 12, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Robert

      $200K? The average wages for a prof with a PhD and tenure are not even 100K.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • AlGaN

      Catholic charities help millons of people all over the world. Clearly you are uninformed.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Lesli Jeffrey

      How do you know what they donate? Hate much? Why can't you just read a news article without making a personal attack on The Church? Brave statements for someone who hides behind a computer. Cowardly qualities from such a know-it-all!

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

      "THEY are supposed to GIVE to the poor, run hospitals, teach schools"
      Please keep religion out of schools, there is a time and place for story time.. Schools are not it. And in return we will keep thinking out of religionish buildings.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Wahinegir1

      How do you know the professors make that much and do not donate?

      May 12, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Dave

      @Robert Average is more 150k a year. If you live in a place like Texas and have a desirable PhD degree such as engineering then you can make over 250k. It's a very nice job if you put in the work for it. My dad is a Civil Engineering professor at a state university and he makes 200k a year. I also plan to get a PhD in Electrical Engineering and will probably earn more than him if I play my cards right.

      @Clyde How do you know they don't contribute? Do you know them personally? Haters gonna hat I guess.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • DVoice12

      Okay you are absolutely a moron! Where the hell to professors make $200k??? Maybe ivy leage, if that . And by the way , they do pay taxes. Since when do churches teach schools. You must be drinking something or need to go see a mental hospitial.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Eddy

      Maybe in the private sector but certainly not as a professor. At the private university I teach at there are a few heads of departments that make over 100K but almost no professor does.

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


      Good luck with getting 200k. I am finishing up my PhD and public and private universities are offering about 80K starting wages. Wages in university settings are going down not up. When/if I tenure up I can expect to barely cross the 100k line if inflation rises a bit. I may just go into the private sector where I can start at about 100k.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Aloisae

      All of the Catholic college professors that I have known (and I've known a lot having grown up in a university town with two Catholic colleges, having attended three Catholic universities and now living again in a town where a Catholic university is the largest employer) have been very generous in both their monetary donations and donating time to various charities and charitable works. Philanthropy is encouraged by the colleges and by the social networks surrounding them.... much more so than in the communities I've lived in that haven't been centered around Catholic universities. However, I have noticed over the past forty years or so that there is a greater expectation in society at large that "the government" should be responsible for what used to be handled by private philanthropy.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • awasis

      What does Jesus command all to do regarding the poor?

      May 12, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Aloisae

      @ DVoice12: The Catholic church does own and operate many schools. It is probably the largest network of private primary and secondary education with over 7,000 schools in the US alone educating over 2 million grade school and high school students in 2009/2010. Parochial schools are supported by church funds in addition to tuition, not tax dollars, providing in many areas a reasonable alternative for working class and middle class parishioners and removing these millions of students from the public education system paid for by taxpayers. Comparing national test scores, Catholic schools in general (as with most private schools) perform better in both reading and math than public schools although the advantage is stronger in reading than in Math though the difference in Math was still statistically significant; however, this could be due to the self selecting nature of the students in Catholic schools where the parents have made the decision to value education to the extent of paying for it. The Catholic church (or various orders) also own and operate hospitals/clinics/etc. and various other charities providing services to the needy.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • someGuy

      So the government isn't supposed to help people?

      What about roads? You want to drive down a paved street then go pave it yourself.

      Schools? You want your kids to learn how to read teach them yourself. Have a job and don't have time? Too bad, guess you should just pay for them to go to a private school, if you can't afford that then you are obviously lazy.

      Cancer? pay for it yourself. Cancer eating away at you and you don't have the strength anymore to work? Well first off you're a lazy weakling, second off maybe you should get that kid of yours out there working. The gov shouldn't help kids by preventing child labor anyway. Come to think of it, they shouldn't even have a minimum wage in place either because that's protecting lower level workers. Now that we have no labor laws you don't get paid enough to feed your family or pay for housing? Maybe you should work harder and make more money. You know all those children making pennies on the hour sewing shoes in foreign countries make pennies because they're lazy. 20 hour days? Please, sleep is for the weak, go 24 hours a day.

      O and retirement? Social security, medicare, those are for lazy old people who decided they don't want to work anymore. Anyway those are socialist programs, and we all know that is a slippery slope to communism.

      Don't get me started on medicaid, yea again that's for lazy people who obviously don't work enough to pay for their own medical problems. Have type 1 diabetes and insurance companies won't accept you due to preexisting condition without charging so much as to double your monthly living expense? Well you obviously just need to work harder, shouldn't of gotten diabetes in the first place. The cause of it is unknown and sets in during childhood in children that are healthy? Well it's not the governments place to help you, that's for sure. It's your job to help yourself, if you can't do that then just die, what use are you anyway?

      A criminal broke into your house and murdered your family then burned down the building? Put out the fire and go catch him yourself, the government isn't there to supply law enforcement or fire fighters. You should've been able to fight him off yourself to begin with, if you didn't then you're obviously just incompetent. Terrorists blew up some buildings and killed a bunch of people you know? Well buy a gun, a plane ticket and go catch them yourself. You should be fine getting on the plane considering the government shouldn't be there helping people by preventing people from bringing weapons onto planes, they're not a charity.

      The only reason the government exists is to help people. They should not be doing a single thing that doesn't help the people of this country. Without the government then this would just be anarchy. O I see now, you're an anarchist aren't you RightturnClyde?

      May 12, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • someGuy

      I can't believe no one has commented on the dumbest thing this guy said but me.

      May 12, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  20. Dave from GA

    GOP = Grand Oil Party
    GOP = Greed Over Poor
    GOP = Get Off Poor
    GOP = Give Out Penny-less

    Anyone can you think of this?

    May 12, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Mother2Four-Doctor2All

      GOP = Good Old Prejudice

      May 12, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      Catholic priests showing their love for poor boys again.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Tom from NY

      Maybe instead of targeting our citizens with reductions in benefits and higher taxes, our government should do away with individual tax deductions for non-profits including religious organizations. This would determine pretty quickly which non-profit organizations the public will support.

      May 12, 2011 at 3:56 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.