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. ART

    Republicans are evil.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Ivy Liz

      No, neither Republicans or Democrats are evil. Its individuals and these individuals give the each party a bad name. Then that would mean that half of the country is evil depending which side you are on. I believe that Democrats have better personal morals, but that is just my opnion. ie caring for the poor, middle class, single mothers, the environment (we all live on earth, we should kinda care about it) foster children, just to name a few. And yes, some republicans do care about those things.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  2. MyTxOpinion

    I agree programs have to be cut and more often than not it is the poor that will be impacted/hurt the most. The fiscal reality of this nation demands that we pay off our debt AND spend less than we take in. It may seem like a simplistic explanation .. but it is the truth. As for my faith ... I donate what l can when I can. I don't have a lot ... but I do what little I can. Jesus calls His people to do for others and I try the best I can.

    My personal opinion is that if we cut spending and allowed people to have more of their own money ... eventually more would get to the poor. I use the loaf of bread analogy to explain this ... Money to the poor is like a loaf of bread being handed to the needy. We hand the loaf off to someone else & they pass it along the line .. each person taking a small piece (Representative of the salaries of the people in government who currently handle welfare.) before they pass it along. By the time the bread gets to hte person it was intended .. they have bread .. but only a small portion compared to the loaf it started as.

    When people donate to charities or churches .. the loaf of bread passes through fewer hands and fewer people pinch off of it (Because as a charity or church .. you are aware of Whom you serve (GOD) and less is taken.) so that a larger amount reaches the people it was intended for. It is not a perfect analogy .. but it gives a visual of what happens to your tax dollars in the government system versus charitable donations to churches and other charitable organizations.


    May 12, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Scott Mac

      MyTxOpinion, you stated, "When people donate to charities or churches .. the loaf of bread passes through fewer hands and fewer people pinch off of it (Because as a charity or church .. you are aware of Whom you serve (GOD) and less is taken.) so that a larger amount reaches the people it was intended for. It is not a perfect analogy .. but it gives a visual of what happens to your tax dollars in the government system versus charitable donations to churches and other charitable organizations."

      Is that why so many churches spend obscene amounts of money on opulence in their buildings and ceremonies that COULD have been spent helping the poor?

      This is NOT a religious issue. This is a humanitarian issue. Anybody who does not believe in helping the poor is, himself, poor in spirit and compassion. I just wonder how many Republicans refuse medicare, medicaid and social security, because THOSE ARE ALL GOVERNMENT WELFARE PROGRAMS – SOCIALSIM OF THE HIGHEST ORDER!

      It is easy to talk trash when you don't have to answer for it. Perhaps you are a Lakers fan. They are doing a lot of trash talking these days!

      May 12, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  3. Paul

    There are many that love the poor, democrats for instance, and they do whatever it takes to keep people poor, after all, the poor vote for democrats.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      No, poor MINORITIES vote Democrat for representation, poor white people vote Republican because they are idiots.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Ivy Liz

      you are aguing your case like a middle school girl with bias opionions.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      You have an obvious arrogant disdain for the poor. Sometimes their lot in life was not their fault, just like your lot in life was not a result of strong character, but of luck.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  4. Not All Docs Play Golf

    Boehner always acts as if he had such an impoverished childhood. So what that he swept floors of his daddy's tavern? But he somehow went to Xavier Univerisity, a Catholic (Jesuit) very, very expensive college, and certainly has amassed wealth since then. So I'm a little bit sceptical of Boehner, as he's always speaking for "the American people."

    May 12, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      From guilt, the cornerstone of Catholosism.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  5. Ivy Liz

    The country as a whole should help the poor. That is what government is. A country working as a whole. Yes, we can do our own part in helping those around us by making personal donations and volunteering, but voicing our opinion and urging the government to do what is best is a large part of making this country work together. Honestly, do you think the charitable donations people personaly make can fix our coutnry. No, it needs to be done a bigger level.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  6. DIane

    The great shame here is that cuts are made everywhere but to the military. The pentagon budget is DOUBLE what it was in 2000. I say we spend OUR TAX DOLLARS at home, not on bombing countries like Iraq, or wasting time in Afghanistan.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  7. The Bodacious

    Bow before the orange face.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  8. seabiscuit

    This is ridiculous. Jesus also taught that we must take responsibility for ourselves. Pope Benedict just last year said it was not the responsibility of government to take care of the poor – that by demanding that, people were ridding themselves of their own responsibility to care for the poor. There are many fine Catholics who believe government welfare is just another form of modern day slavery – holding back people from advancing and keeping them within the Democratic Party.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Frogist

      @seabiscuit: Please elaborate on the "welfare is slavery" theory.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  9. JezebelJean

    End Medicare. Vote Republican.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  10. dagget

    History has a tendency to repeat. Hoovervilles, great depresion, soup kitchens, public charities, etc. It looks as though it is all coming back around again. Same people are making the same decisions that will result in the same mistakes.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      General statements of like that are of no use to anyone.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  11. James

    For criminy's sake, how are the poor ever going to help a rich Republican? A kickback of deposit cans? The rich elite didn't get rich through generosity. They got that way through greed. Greedy people only care what you can do for them. The poor can do nothing for them except maybe vote, which they all to often do not. The Catholic church is setting their expectations too high. Maybe when they stop molesting the children of the poor, then they can justifiably raise the bar a bit.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  12. kingaire

    Why is it up to the goverment to help and take care of the poor and down trodden. This should be the work of the churches and/or charity groups. I donate to my church and many charities and I don't want my taxes going to the same causes.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      This is precisely why the government SHOULD be responsible for the welfare of the poor! In your world, the poor in your community are dependent upon individual's choice to help. What if there are not enough people who choose to do so? What about the fact that there are many churces, at who's descretion it is to help out this person or that, for this benefit or that?

      May 12, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Alison

      The government is supposed to be run by the people FOR THE PEOPLE. THAT is why. It is a huge disservice to our nation if the government in charge of said nation does nothing to help its citizens. I do not understand what people like you don't understand about that.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • MyTxOpinion

      No .. the government SHOULDN'T be responsible for the poor .. because politicians will ALWAYS be able to threaten and coerce those self-same poor people into voting for them again and again with promises of more largesse from the public treasury, thereby taking away ANY incentive for them to do better for themselves!

      Ultimately .. individuals need to be responsible for themselves! How hard is THAT to understand?!

      May 12, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Alison

      While I agree with what you say about personal responsibility, MyTxOpinion, just hanging people out to dry is wrong. There are certain situations that people are just unable to get out of without a little help. That's where these programs come in and cutting funding to them is very retroactive. WIC, for example, makes healthier food more affordable to low-income parents. Otherwise, some families can't afford the good stuff and instead buy the crap, creating an obesity problem or health problems because children aren't getting the proper nutrients for growth. Go ahead and research how much obesity costs this country a year.

      My mother had twins. My father worked as a machinist while she stayed home to take care of my brother and sister. We received assistance from WIC. Keywords here: My father WORKED and yet we still needed a little help. It's not just about free handouts and people that will take government handouts and not do anything to help themselves. Because a handful of people find a loophole and take advantage of government programs is no reason to neglect the people out there that genuinely DO need help.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  13. waterman

    The religious leaders are pointing out an obvious contradiction in the republican party. Praising God on Sunday, doing everything in their power against God's word Monday through Saturday. Transfer of all wealth to the top 1%. Cut salaries, benefits, and rights of the middle class an poor. Yeah, that's what Jesus would do.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Ronald

      I couldn't have said it better myself. Well done.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • John B

      You got it. That short paragraph you just wrote explains it all.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  14. clarke

    If the people in Washington got rid of all the fraud, they wouldn't have to cut programs. Create fraud units in every state and create jobs, and still have money left over. The problem is, they would rather cut programs, then find an answer. The lazy mans way out. We won't fix anything, we will just cut off our nose to spit our face. There my job is done. The poor don't speak out, they just make do. So it is easy to cut programs. I think it is disgraceful.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  15. Jack

    Just pay him, he'll be the friend of anybody that pays him for love. For a little more you can do a figurative three-some with Missy McConnell too. Money talks.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  16. Their motto: Do as I say, not as...

    The Catholics need to clean their own house before they go pointing their fingers at anyone else.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Carl LaFong


      May 12, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Scott

      While I certainly agree that as an organization the Catholic Church has had issues over its history, very few, if any organizations can even come close to matching what they do for poor, not to mention what they have done for the education and medical systems throughout the world. Maybe they should just stop all of that while they “clean their own house? Maybe they should stop the thousands of meals they give out every day, or shut down the hundreds of hospitals they operate in the US alone, or boot the millions of students out of Catholic schools back in to struggling for money public school systems. Yeah, they should just keep quiet until they get their house clean.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  17. Ted from NY

    It's "impetus," not "impetuous." (paragraph beginning "Stephen F. Schneck is a professor....")

    May 12, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Fat Bobby Joe

      This is what happens, Ted, when you idolize the trivial, and dismiss the substantial.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Ahhhhhh

      Well, this whole article is bunk then, because of this mispelling.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • fred

      good work Ted....no wonder we Americans are getting beat up in the world, we don't even have writers that can write without spell check and content editors that don't care whatsoever....and maybe that's why Bob Joe is Fat...?

      May 12, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • James

      I certainly hope these impetuous replies don't gain too much impetus from trolling imps.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  18. Ben

    If you're really that worried about the poor in this country, then you should be the one donating all that you can to help them. Don't just sit back and criticize others for it. Especially when those others have to think about the entire nation.

    I get so tired of the hyporcrites who call for our government to provide more and more to the poor in our country, but don't do anything themselves. Your "Christian" faith calls on YOU to provide to the poor and needy. Not the government.

    I make more money than I need, so I donate what I don't need to those who do. I don't wait around for someone else to do what I am perfectly capable of doing myself.

    Calling yourself a Christian is not the same thing as being one.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Fat Bobby Joe

      I see nothing about the government providing more and more to the wealthy. Apparently that's okay with you, and there doesn't seem to be anything christian in that, at all.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • James

      I thought that the ridiculous amount of taxes I pay was my donation, some of which was supposed to go to programs for the poor (in our own country). Guess it was really meant to line the pockets of the rich and help the rich get more big oil kickbacks to line their vaults as well.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Frogist

      @Ben: I've never understood that philosophical distinction. You did say gov't's job is to "think about the entire nation." And since the poor are part of this nation, why can't you rally for the gov't to care for the poor? Why should Christians only help individually or thru the church? Isn't help on multiple fronts better than help on one front? I've always been genuinely confused on that point.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • u2canC

      @Ben, what you said about giving what you have left over – that is the problem. Only a few people actually give to charity and live their Christian faith. You say you give what you have left. That's not what we are called to do. Jesus asked that we share what we have, not the leftovers. If government doesn't help the poor by taxing the wealthy and those who have comfortable lives, then it falls on the handful of people to do so. As it is, in any organization, 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work and do 80 percent of the giving. We need it to be at least the other way around.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Randy

      Did you feel it important to tell us what you do for the poor.? Just asking

      May 12, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Scott Mac

      "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

      Do those words have any meaning to you? Most Republicans are Christian in name only. Supportung policies that hurt the poor while defending tax cuts to the wealthy and major corporations is a heresy of the highest order. Jesus taught us to sell what we have and give to the poor. The Bible says that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. According to the Bible, we ARE our brother's keeper! Did you ever read those parts of the Good Book, and if so, then what parts do you not comprehend?

      May 12, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • DCM


      Before you spout off do a little research knucklehead. The Catholic Church is one of the largest contributors to assist the poor and needy so they are backing what they say. Just because you don't like it that for once the Catholic Church speaks out to the hypocritical Republican party you make baseless statements and vilify the church. The righteous Repubs use Christianity as a shield and force this garbage about being the party of morality, when their actions speak much louder than words. I am not a huge fan of the Catholic Church as an organization, but it cannot be disputed that when it comes to helping the poor, their track record is substantially superior to the Republican party, which as the party of family values and such puts their actions in direct contrast with their words.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • America Shrugged

      Hey Mr Speaker, Where are the jobs bills you teapublicans promised us Americans you would work on if we voted you back in? What's that? You'll get to it once you push through a budget gutting bill which hurts everyone except the wealthiest, getting rid of NPR funding, repeal HCR, Planned Parenthood, Obama's BC, etc... Sounds like the priorities are backwards.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Ben

      See what happens when you call people out?

      Everyone has to get all defensive because they know I'm talking about them. Rather than take in some self-reflection on whether or not you are doing your part, you decide to take offense and try and tell me how I am wrong.

      I practice what I preach. I give what I can afford to give. Do you? Probably not, because you are obviously taking offense to that notion in general. You expect the government to cover your short-comings as a human being.

      Yes, I am arrogant. Yes, I think I'm better than you. Yes, I am perfectly fine with that.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Frogist

      @Ben: "Yes, I am arrogant. Yes, I think I'm better than you. Yes, I am perfectly fine with that."
      Are these the Christian principles you were referring to earlier? I'm sorry you feel attacked. I wish I had a more direct answer to my inquiries from my previous post. But I guess this will have to do. Although I guess it does explain a lot.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  19. mi17mtp

    If you decide not to choose, you have still made a choice.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • James

      Hey now, let's not Rush to any judgments.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  20. Frogist

    The funniest thing in this article is Rush Limbaugh saying it's a favorite tactic of the left to invoke Jesus. Really? I know he's a little touched in the head, maybe from all the drugs, but that's far fetched even for him. I guess when his party panders to the religious right it's always because they're just so Christian themselves which is evidenced in this article. Speaker Boehner and the Repubs are living up to their "Christian" principles so much so that Catholics, evangelicals and protestants have formed a group against their anti-poor actions.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Mary Perfater

      I agree with the gentleman who says the Catholics should clean their own house before they go pointing their fingers at any body else.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Howard

      So all you so called bible reading christians who are ready to crucify Boehner and the Repubs over their budget cuts and so called hatred of the poor, need to go read your bible more. No where does it say in the bible that we should give our money to the government or Cesar so they can help the poor! Yes it says we should help the poor, but of our own accord, not through the government and more taxes.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • The_Mick

      Excellent points! But Rush knows he doesn't have to tell the truth: he just needs to say what the haters who tune him in want to hear.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • littleriver2

      I am just disgusted with all the lunatics touting their firm beliefs in the teachings of "their savior" and then thinking we, the rest of us, all have selective amnesia. Cutting off the care for the poor and needy among us is so down and dirty. Such hypocrits all.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Frogist

      @ Howard: You statement of "It's not in the Bible" only really makes sense if you follow the bible word for word. Do you? I highly doubt it. And if the Bible was a relevant resource for telling us how our gov't should work in the service of all its people. Which it isn't. Or is this just another excuse for people to use the bible for their own greedy purposes? I suspect so. Personally, I believe anyone who truly cares about the needs of the poor would look at every possible means for helping them. To simply count out the gov't's capacity because you think the Bible doesn't explicitly say so seems cold and greedy.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:51 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.