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. Julie

    Really, the Catholic Church should not hold itself up as a virtuous organization after what they have done to many innocent children Anyone who thinks Jesus was a conservative has probably not read the Bible – especially the Gospels. You all ought to get on that right away. It will be interesting to see how the newly Catholic convert Newt measures up in the caring for the poor part of what Jesus taught. Jesus taught that we give more than what we are asked to give. A life of service is what He taught, not a life of making as much money as you can and doing whatever you have to do to get it. He washed his disiples feet, he healed the sick, he singled out the most downtrodden for his mercy and grace. Get a grip – where the GOP is now has nothing to do with Christian teachings.

    May 16, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  2. Tuition Poor

    Jesus also said ( in defense of work rather than welfare:)

    "Give them a fish they eat for a day, Teach them to fish they eat for a lifetime"

    May 16, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • andrea

      @ tuition poor: I agree with that quote entirely... so why doesn't anyone start fixing the system and "teach them to fish" so that we can get these people back on their feet, become productive members of society, and off of welfare instead of just cutting the programs and denying the people that need it? i know there are some people that take advantage, and that really makes me angry, but there are others that genuinely need help, appreciate help, and do not want to be on welfare. i am sure if lawmakers thought about it long enough, they could come up with some ideas to better welfare programs to prevent people from taking advantage and start getting those who need the help independent again, which i am certain would start saving the government money. that is what government should be doing, working to make our nation a better place.

      May 16, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  3. MACK

    "..camel to go through the eye of a needle..", "..render unto Caesar..".
    So Jesus was pro-tax and anti-rich.
    Just like the Republicans!...no wait, Hmmm.

    May 14, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Adelina

      Mack, not that simple. Jesus was legal and was against greed and sloth. Republican Democrats is an American thing.

      May 15, 2011 at 6:23 am |
  4. RightturnClyde

    It seems the Roman Catholic church would have had enough trouble with child-molestation and buggery. Now they blatantly take on the Republican and conservative voters of American with a purely Roman Catholic social agenda? It harkens back to Bishop Cody ordering Chicagoan to show their 1040s and donate 10% or more to Bishop Cody so he can spend it as he saw fit on Chicago's poor. I wonder how many of these very well paid professors gave 10% or 20% of their income to their Roman Catholic charities? Hospitals? The poor? (which poor .. where and whom?) How much have the spent of THEIR incomes on soup lines, orphanages, prisoner ministries, Catholic elementary and secondary education? Bible study? They will not show THEIR 1040's - you can bet on that. The Roman Catholic church is spending millions of tort damages for wayward (child molesting) priests .. where were these professors when that happened? Why was there no indignation over those incidents? (well, they have a job to protect .. right?) Hypocrites (all of them) sit and take cheap shots are responsible behavior while they do NOTHING to improve the communities they fleece of millions (to pay damages)

    May 13, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  5. The Fool on the Hill

    Yes, Frank. Since the majority of all Congress and both current and past Presidents claim to be Christian, we wouldn't have the enormous cost of two wars (plus interest) and probably half the "defense" spending. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Anyone disagree? If so, please point out where Jesus recommends war or violence as a means to solve problems.

    What I can't imagine is people like Dement and Kyl expressing love and respect for leaders on the other side, like Pelosi and Reid. It's like believing I'll see Trump pass through the eye of a needle. 🙂

    May 13, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  6. Osama bin Laden

    Hello USA !!!!! I am alive and doing well.

    May 13, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • gerald

      No your not. Your in the depths of hell.

      May 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • gerald

      You probably got your dozen virgins. Fat and ugly Virgin demons who cut it off.

      May 13, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • chief

      i hope bin laden is locked up in hell where all the pedaphile priests are

      May 13, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • gerald


      Why are pedophile priests the most important thing in your world? You don't even like kids and want most of them contracepted out of existence.

      May 13, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • chief

      re gerald.. i think its funny how catholics standup beat chest about how great and holy they are by helping the poor, stopping abortion while OPENLY denying thousand of peoples cry about pedaphile priests.... btw euchotard... you lie about me.,.... i think if people have a non abortion option to not getting pregnent, then they shouldnt worry about so-called celibate men is dresses telling them its wrong..... i love but not the way you do .... priest

      May 13, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • thessalonian

      More bearing false witness. If you mean me, if you have paid attention instead of flappin your mouth like a moron you would know I have not denied the CC has a problem. Nor have I claimed any great holiness. Nor do most Catholics I know. Clearly you don't know what Cathollicism is and would rather be an ignorant bigot.

      May 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • thessalonian

      BTW you love like Osama bin Laden.

      May 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • chief

      re thessalonian .... snappy comeback on the bin laden comment.... bearing false witness is applied to those to claim to serve God but defend pedaphile priest.... if the shoe fits.... wear it priest

      May 13, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  7. Robert Iacomacci

    What Catholic Professors ought to blast is the lack of prayer in Church. They ought to blast how local Catholic Churches could be doing more in the way of helping the poor. The Professors ought to get out of their ivory palaces and demand the Vatican sell some of its priceless belongings and give the money to the poor. The professors ought to be more concerned with their own Church and lack of spreading the Gospel. They ought to blast the sick behavior of clerics, they ought to blast the fact that they have lost their moral authority, because they are more concerned in advancing a Marxist agenda, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Shame on the professors. When the united States government is virtually bankrupt, and stealing from the future to pay for the poor of today or for anything is the most irresponsible act any government can achieve. The professors are sickening.

    May 13, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      "Lack of prayer" is from few butts in seats. The management is selling fewer and fewer tickets to their games to fill those creaky wooden benches, and that's a good thing. Means fewer priests scoring too.

      May 13, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  8. Andrew

    Anyone else notice something strange about when conservatives talk about cutting funding for social welfare programs? "Tax cuts help stimulate the economy because whenever people get money they go out and buy stuff, thus stimulating the economy", but then champion "Americans are generous people, so with their tax cuts they will donate more to charity so the poor will still not be hurt because of the generosity of Americans". So the argument then seems to be cut social spending to stimulate the economy while claiming that the money cut from social spending will somehow end up back into welfare by donations from money they already claimed was being spent to buy "things" in helping stimulate our economy.

    Does anyone else see a slight disconnect here? And this is a reason to keep taxes for the richest among us at record lows?

    May 12, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • taxpayer

      Nothing like going to extremes with responses. I'm talking about responsibility and choices citizens make. An extreme case of our current society is with a family in my hometown who used government money for other "needs". According to the newspaper, this family had an infant who ended up dying with absolutely no food in her system. They were collecting government checks to feed this infant, but chose drugs over feeding this child. That is an extreme case...but maybe some of those collecting government checks would seek employment or make better choices if they knew that the government was cutting back. Our country was built by people who were responsible for their own basic needs and didn't expect others to take care of them and their families. Do you not believe that there are people living off government checks who are capable of earning a living and choose not to, or make "under the table" money while collecting government checks? Obviously, legislators who study government programs observe society behaviors and see that changes have to be made in many government programs. This change will not lead to the poor dying.

      May 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Amused

      Well Mr. "taxpayer" Are you certain that "This change will not lead to the poor dying." ????? You assume that all poor people are poor because they are lazy or criminals. Some of them are, but MOST are NOT! So, you would rather let all people poor DIE just to punish the few that take advantage of the system. Now the Selfish landlords, who make huge profits off of poor tenenats need not be bothered with paying their fair share of taxes, right? We should cut all of their taxes because we know that they will do the right thing and help their poor tenenats with the extra profit, right? Give me break! What a selfish F ing pig you are! How do you sleep at night?

      May 16, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  9. Taxpayer

    The USA has become a country of enablers. We enable many citizens to live off of taxpayers. It is draining the economy. There are too many programs funding citizerns who are not willing to take financial responsibility for their families. With slogans like "it takes a village to raise a child" dysfunctional families believe that the government, through taxpayers, should be responsible for their offspring. It has become like a neverending debt to taxpayers. The legislators have to change the country and make citizens become responsible. Otherwise generations of families will continue and expect the government to take care of them. Legislators have to implement checks-and-balances into programs. As the economy continues to hit taxpayers, those considered "poor" will continue to have opportunities that taxpayers cannot provide for their own children. Things have to turn around where only those citizens who are totally disabled will be provided with welfare, food stamps, and health insurance, etc. Fraud and greed needs to be addressed. Non profit organizations have to become transparent with their funding. What Mr. Boehner is trying to accomplish is to make every citizen responsible-not just taxpayers..

    May 12, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Andrew

      You're right, we should just let them die instead? Heaven forbid we raise the tax rate on the very richest Americans to support the lives of the most vulnerable people. Clearly, anyone who is poor just doesn't work as hard as the rich. Paris Hilton really does deserve every last penny she can get, why should a poor person struggling to survive get any free handouts when they clearly don't work as hard as the rich.

      You know I'd care less about people complaining about taxpayer money going to the poor if income was actually determined by work. Income is determined more by whatever job sector you're in, rather than how hard you work. Field biologists can work just as hard as an investment banker to make a tiny fraction of the same income, and certainly aren't less educated. Plastic surgeons make vastly more than doctors in free clinics, but that hardly means the general pract-tioner in a free clinic is somehow less deserving of a decent income. The poor are not poor because they deserve to be poor, and the rich are not rich because they deserve to be rich... and saying "let the poor die, don't you dare raise my taxes from the lowest effective rate in history" seems, well, evil.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Steve

      You're absolutely right. The only reason why people are poor is because they are lazy louts, the whole lot of them. Am I right? Isn't this what you are saying?

      May 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • veterannavy

      hmmm, I was in the Navy for 6 years, I am the only income for a family of four, work full time, have done everything from tending bar to selling door to door, I am also a graduate student who is just finishing up. Kids are fine, wife is a great mother...currently earn less than 20k, been on WIC...have managed to keep my house through the recession...yeah your right, im lazy. Im not working hard at all. ...%$#^@ idiot. I havent had a day off in months between school and work. When are people going to understand that taxes have been a necessity for the existence of a state structure since the dawning of the state structure. What has set us apart is our ability to care for and provide plans for the poor in out country. Are some people taking advantage of it...sure...just like there are rich people who cheat and evade on their small tax burden anyway.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  10. Up Your Rear Admiral

    Catholic professors "blast"-ing is taking work away from Catholic priests. Blasting B-oehner at that.

    CNN headline writers F-T-W.

    May 12, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  11. Adelina

    Catholics always help mankind with compassion, virtues and intelligence.

    May 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  12. Schmengy

    oh those Catholics... can't be obnoxious anti-abortion fascists without them, can't screw over the poor in 1,000 other ways with them.... such mercurial allies to the Conservotard movement!

    May 12, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  13. Alfred

    I wonder if these same professors hic;, would be so upset if this were Pelosi (kill any infant in the womb) speaking instead. What hypocrites.

    May 12, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  14. dorkrock

    Umm... really?!? Catholics?!?

    Spend 15 minutes on google searching for information on how the people of India *really* feel about Mother Teresa and how much she really *didn't* help improve anyone's quality of life... at all... and in fact openly stated that suffering before dying would bring people closer to her god... and how when she faced physical suffering she flew to the States and spend lots of money on top-notch medical care for herself like a hypocrite.

    Yeah, Catholics, keep dogging on people for doing what you're doing while feeling pious and superior... good job.


    May 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • gerald

      Bigotry knows no bounds.

      May 13, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  15. Reality

    Christian churches to include the RCC have many assets especially in real estate. Considering these religions no longer have any valid reason to function, they should sell off these assets and donate the money to the one of the US's poorest organizations i.e. the Federal government which in the red to the tune of $14 trillion dollars.................................................

    May 12, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • gerald

      More stupidity.

      May 13, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      I like that: they can put their money where their mouth is and give ALL of their assets (church and personal) to the federal government and donate ALL of their time to teaching (for no pay) the poor so the poor can learn and be non=poor. THEN I will believe them.

      May 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  16. JHH

    Congress addresses support of the poor through the tax code either through (Democrate) tax and redistribute or (Rebublican) tax incentives e.g. deductions for qualified charitable giving. To suggest Boehner hates the poor becasue he does not support tax and redistribution over direct giving is a short sided argument.

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

      You're not really serious are you?
      Again, homework: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/04/10-graphs-that-explain-the-state-of-our-taxes/237440/
      Read this then get back to me....

      May 12, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  17. Getagrip


    All of you look at this then go home and think about where you fall in the American economic pie. Again, we, the VAST majority in America seem to be stuck in our attacks on each other and do nothing to move ourselves forward. As the saying goes, the 5% are "Laughing all the way to the bank"!

    May 12, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  18. kleinaj18

    A Republican caring about the poor? Religious people are more out of touch than I thought.

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

      Republicans have done much more to help and advance the poor but you are too brainwashed to see it. Doya think the Democrats and socialists "care" about the poor .. .. the poor have been serfs in less time than it took Obama to defeat Hillary. Fools .. vote for him again .. then buy a nice tent from REI where you can be comfortable.

      May 13, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  19. Laura

    ...'small number of Kennedy Catholics' 'Narrow definition of poor'...?! You are living in a convenient dream world – convenient to your personal greed and lack of caring for others, especially those who suffer in poverty. Have you ever heard of Jesus Christ? Perhaps you might look in a deep mirror at your own failure to understand the meaning of being a 'real' Catholic.

    May 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • LarryLinn

      Well said.

      May 14, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • anne Kaplan

      The Catholic Church is conservative. Jesus Christ was conservative, He loved all people but He believed in hard work. I think that the people that wrote that letter to the speaker of the house should think about all the poor babies that have been killed because of the government paying for abortions. I am sure that the religious cannot overlook what is happening with this administration and how abusive they have been using our money for their sins against unborn childrten.

      May 14, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  20. Frank

    Can anyone actually imagine what Congress would be like if its members either voted their professed beliefs or labeled their belief system according to their actions.

    C-Span Commentator: We really shouldn't be surprised at Senator X's vote after all he does list his faith as 'Heartless Self-Serving B@stard'

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

      Good one Frank! 😀

      May 12, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • bob

      I’m dismayed by the letter questioning Speaker Boehner’s Catholic faith. The Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church states “Subsidiarity is among the most constant and characteristic directives of the Church’s social doctrine. The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to certain forms of centralization, bureaucratization, and welfare assistance and to the unjustified and excessive presence of the State in public mechanisms. By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. An absent or insufficient recognition of private initiative — in economic matters also — and the failure to recognize its public function, contribute to the undermining of the principle of subsidiarity, as monopolies do as well.” It seems Speaker Boehner’s voting record aligns reasonably well with this principle of the Church’s social doctrine. Further, compendium paragraph 355 on tax revenues and public financing require that such be just, efficient and effective to encourage employment growth and sustain business and non-profit activities. Speaker Boehner’s position on moderating federal taxes is to encourage employment growth and sustain business and non-profit activities, again in keeping with the Church’s social doctrine. Moreover, in keeping with the Church’s teachings on subsidiarity, free will and real love, it seems most if not all the issues raised in the letter questioning Speaker Boehner’s faith would be more efficient, effective, just and respectful of human dignity if they were left to the individual, family, community or state level. Moreover, the massive government debt is an unjust allocation of resources between generations and I’m grateful that Speaker Boehner is seriously attempting to resolve this inter-generational theft now. Without a full discussion of these issues, I do not believe the letter was fair to Speaker Boehner in his honest efforts to balance the Church’s social doctrine, nor fair in questioning his personal faith to God. Motivations may be questioned when an incomplete analysis of the Church’s social doctrine is presented in a public manner.

      May 13, 2011 at 4:24 am |
    • gerald

      Thx for posting that again bob. The logic of some people who say those who are against public welfare are against helping the poor is atrocious. As if government is the only way to solve problems. It's a poor way in this case.

      May 13, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • orazey

      I don't understand Republican Logic, if there are no jobs, then how can the majority of us who depend on our labor, to obtain the resources we need to survive, survive? Boehner = J Edgar Hoover, if it was up to Boehner we will reliving Hoovervilles lol.

      May 13, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Jim

      Not sure how Rush Limbaugh's portrait of Jesus got into this story, but Rush is right as rain. I was just reading the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the conservatives who keep wealth in the hands of the few . . . Blessed are those who want to move towards the way things were in the good old days . . . Blessed are those who repeal programs for the poor and give to the rich." Yep, Jesus was definitely not a liberal; he was a radical right-wing conservative. Rush, you can now return to your prescription drugs.

      May 16, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Amused

      Bob, Exactly where in the Catholic Doctrine does it say you should Steal from the Poor and give to the Rich? I guess I missed that part!

      May 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • bob

      @orazey, how do we survive? Just as you said; we use our labor and talents, just as Jesus told (Matthew 25:14-30). Consider starting your own business or encouraging others to expand theirs. Hopefully, the governments will get out of the way and stop creating barriers to entry and expansion. By the way, Hoovervilles were named after President Herbert Hoover, not the FBI Director, and the GOP is not proposing to follow Hoover’s counterproductive policies.

      @Amused, how can you possibly be taken seriously when you suggest TAKING LESS BY FORCE from the rich is the same as giving to the rich and stealing from the poor? For this to be true, one would have to believe the money of the rich is always the property of the collective and there is no private property. This is communism, which the Church clearly opposes. This is as silly as saying the deficit is being balanced on the backs of the poor. You know the poor are not being asked to pay high taxes to reduce the deficit. True Catholic doctrine includes the Ten Commandments, which includes you shall not steal, bear false witness, nor covet your neighbor’s house or property, among others (Exodus 20:1-17). I suggest you read and take them to heart. Please stop bearing false witness and coveting the property of your rich neighbors, as Speaker Boehner has done.

      By the way, I cite the Bible because you and others question the faith of Speaker Boehner and other conservatives, including Republicans. P.S. @Jim deserves no response.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:08 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.