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. Jerry R

    I really don't get it. Why cut the funding for the poor when they can cut $4 billion dollars earmarked for oil company subsidy? It makes no sense and defies any logic.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  2. mike90210

    This shouldn't be a surprise, after all, Boener IS a Republican. If poor people want any compassion from this guy or the Republican party, they're gonna have to become extremely wealthy first.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  3. suzanne

    One of the most telling sentences in the article is "One of the most ancient teachings of Christianity is preferential treatment of the poor..." If you keep sucking the middle class dry with taxes, we will be the poor. Do we get preferential treatment theN?

    May 12, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Alison

      That's why not evenly taxing the highest 1% doesn't make sense. Why should the people that make the least in this country, middle class included, foot the entire bill while the richest 1% sit pretty?

      May 12, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  4. bob schoos

    Catholics only understand that now! The working class and Catholics have no business voting Republicans. If they do, it's only because they let their prejudice overtake their brains and heart.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  5. Todd

    The difference in the issue is that Jesus never demanded or lobbied the Roman Empire to collect taxes to distribute to the poor. The charity to help the poor should not be done generously with other peoples money. Charity should start from your own pocketbook. I freely give to my church, I freely give to the poor, I freely give to other needy. I do not need the government to take my money to give elsewhere after it's skimming off the top.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Annette

      Todd, no Jesus fed everyone. I doubt (by your own word) that you are so charitable. Your words speak volumes of selfishness. Wealth was stolely in US from the Indians so get off your moral high ground. We took this country without regard to it belonging to someone else. Now, back to present, I think many of us Americans do not mind giving to the poor because of our religious beliefs (and do). How about giving me some of my military money back. I served so I do not feel guilty saying I do not want all my money for WAR).

      May 12, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Frogist

      @Todd: So you don't pay taxes? Because the only way your statement would have a ring of truth would be if you were against taxation of any kind. Including taxes used for wars, fire departments, child welfare, DMV etc etc not just for programs that go to the poor. Just clarifying.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • mike90210

      "It's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."
      – Jesus H. Christ –

      May 12, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Joe800

      The purpose of goverment is to benefit the populace , to provide an impartial central power to protect any that need it. That protection can be from hunger, cold, abusive employers or criminals. I KNOW I could easily take what ever I wanted from you. So goverment protects you, and in exchange it collects taxes. Not fairly, I know, but that's the failure of men.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  6. Joseph

    "He is one of the signers of the letter and said the impetuous for it took root early in the budget debate."

    That should be "impetus." Wrong word, and pronounced differently. "Impetuous" means "Acting or done quickly and without thought or care; impulsive." You mean to say, "a moving force; impulse; stimulus."

    May 12, 2011 at 10:03 am |

    Catholic Charities has done incredible work in helping the poor, needy, sick, disabled, and abused. It is a steady and diligent organization dedicated to selflessly helping others including non-Catholics. The thought of such a horribly misinformed antagonist to those in need coming to talk at a Catholic venue of any sort smacks of his self delusion and vanity. While he will tout the anti-abortion favored cause of all Republicans, he will avoid his utter disdain for social welfare programs to take care of the millions born of his hoped for demise of Roe v Wade. Boehner is the walking embodyment of hypocrisy.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • suzanne

      Sort of like Obama talking about abortion at Notre Dame.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  8. Alison

    "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."

    I very rarely agree with Catholicism. I think a lot of it is hypocritical crap, mostly because the people who speak the loudest often don't practice what they preach. But in this instance, amen. You can't call yourself a Catholic on Sunday and then go against that every other day of the week. That's like someone saying "I'm a vegetarian!" one day of the week and eating bacon cheeseburgers the other 6 days a week.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  9. Scott Mansfield

    If Boehner wants us to believe that his religion is important to him and that he’s a good Christian, then I think it’s worth pointing out that he is working hard to transfer our nation’s wealth to corporations and to already wealthy individuals at the expense the old, sick, and poor. This is not living a Christ-like life.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Alison

      Thumbs up. He's a fraud.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • paganguy

      Boehner was not the first jerk. Ronald Reagan started the ball rolling when he was governor of California. He continued with his trickle up economy. George W Bush was not much different, he wanted to destroy FICA. Now this lackey guy Boehner.
      Let me remind you that the rich spends his unearned tax savings in Dubai and other places to buy vacation homes.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  10. bellestarrr

    all the republicans are pompous a**es who dont care about the poor or middle class..they ONLY care about filling their pockets and the corporations and wall street pockets...i may be forced off assistance with my medications because of the governments cuts to the states for medication assistance..these are LIFE SAVING meds that I need but terribly expensive...thats the way these boys "roll"...no taxes for the rich...keep the wars going full blast and the hell with the rest of you.....I hope his fake tan one of these days will start eating away at him from the inside out!!!

    May 12, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Frogist

      @bellestar: I'm sorry about your predicament. No one should have to choose between their life-saving meds and being able to pay their bills like rent, mortgage or even food. This sadly is the reality that the Speaker and his kind are ignoring. I don't understand choosing not to support programs that are successful at helping those who need help for the sole reason that their philosophy says the church should be doing that alone. They ignore that actual people will go without because of their position. Certainly the country's money issues must be dealt with, but why on the backs of the poor? It looks like greed to me.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  11. Rosslaw

    Having the Tan Man speak at a Catholic University is obscene-period. The willingness of he and his ilk to steamroll the most vulnerable to benefit the top 1 percent has no boundaries.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  12. dagget

    "General statements of like that are of no use to anyone"
    Ahhhhhh, well said! You must be some kind of genius on a higher level than everyone. Thank goodness you are replying to all the comments to set everyone straight.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Bob Bugle

      America, (like Americans, Catholics included) is the most charitible country in the history of the world. Yet we all have to have a budget that we must live within. No matter how much we spend on domestic social programs, it will never be enough for those who believe capitalism is evil and socialism is the only way to honor the teachings of Christ. Regardless of our religious beliefs, we owe our children and grandchildren the opportunity to grow up in a country "At Least as good" as the one we inherited, unburdened by crushing debt and a dimished standard of living for all. Without true reform to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security we will go broke. This is not some political position, it's a fact that cannot be ignored. Lets stop the name calling and demagoging and work together for the betterment of all.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  13. detada

    It's about time the religious organizations called out the party of NOthing. Republicans have claimed to be the party of religious values, yet they are the biggest hypocrites on the planet. The Bible is full of references and requirements of Christians as it relates to dealing with the poor. Clearly, this is not the platform of the party of NOthing.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  14. john

    The repubs once again will give money to the ones who need it less, and take from the ones who need it most! Don`t they know they will unlish the very bigest problem the U.S will ever have to deal with . The working class has had enough of this crap, they wont take this laying down.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Joe800

      Unfortunately John, youre wrong. Ohio has one of the highest unemployment and job shrinkage rates in the country, yet they continue to vote for Bohener and the republican party. It's disheartening to watch people vote for a political party that makes no secret of their goal and loyalties and when the bad happens those voters scratch their heads in wonder. But they got what they wanted, gays cant marry & anti-choice policies are in effect....hope that keeps the lights on...

      May 12, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Frogist

      @Joe800: Excellent point. I read after the measure in Wisconsin to get rid of collective bargaining rights that the people who voted for the Repubs said that had they thought this would happen they would have voted differently. But part of me feels like they got what they voted for. Sadly, they didn't think hard enough about what they were voting for.

      May 12, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  15. Janet

    RE:Mary Perfater, How clean is your house, backyard, and conscience?

    From the sound of this article, Boehner needs to visit a soup kitchen, employment office, an elementary school caffeteria during a free breakfast before class, and a police/sherrif station to see the people who REALLY need help: the poor and working poor.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  16. RW

    How can the wealthy even come close to relating to those less fortunate? How can they relate to the financial stresses occurred by the poor, middle class and the elderly? All they can relate to is their wealth and wanting more wealth. Their philosophy is, it is good to be filthy rich, and it is better to be richer than my rich neighbor. They don't care one bit about 95% of the American population. This goes for the rich politicians too. A report last week said that 1% of the population controls 40% of the money in America. The rich need to stop hiding their money and pay at least the same tax percentage as the middle class does. The middle class pays more than 21% while the wealthy only pay 16%,

    May 12, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • adam

      The obscene thing is that Boehner didn't come from money. He became successful, and promptly forgot everything he came from.

      May 12, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • DRock76

      Rich people are horrible. They pay a lot of taxes to the support the government, they give huge amounts to charity, and they give middle and lower class people jobs. They are really sick people (if you can't tell, I'm being sarcastic). Please give up on your old, tired stereotype of rich people as Ebenezer Scrooge.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  17. Gary

    And he also supports the death sentence...contrary to Catholics beliefs.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • gerald

      ACtually the death sentence is not contrary to Catholic teaching. Read your catechism. The Death penalty is allowable when it is neccessary to protect the citizens of a country. It is however the Churches position that the need for it is rare as criminals can be put away for life quite reliably. See paragraph 2267. But on the scale of grave moral evil someone who supports abortion of the innocent and someone who supports the death penalty for the guilty are a long way apart.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  18. John Hoe

    If Bonner will not do something tangible for the poor then let him donate half of his salary.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  19. MarylandBill

    I find it interesting that the references to Kerry and Kennedy was thrown in so as to suggest that Boehner's getting a letter was some how equivalent. Kerry and Kennedy were denied communion for their support of abortion, which the Catholic Church (Not just some bishops BTW) teaches is an intrinsic evil. In contrast Boehner gets a letter from a bunch of college professors? The two are in no way comparable, either in how important the message is (as a Catholic, I know how serious getting denied communion is) and in the subject matter the message is about.

    Note, I tend to agree with the college professors that the Republican approach to cutting the national debt will disproportionately hurt the poor. That being said, I also recognize that issues of tax policy and government spending are matters open to prudential judgement. Men of good will can disagree over the best course. Boehner, whatever his faults as a Catholic might be is from the Catholic perspective, on the right side of the abortion debate.

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

      So because the Kennedy's and Kerry, both of whom did a great deal for the poor in this country were prochoice, their good deed are completely outweighed? Tell that to those who were helped.

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

      Sin is an individual decision. Poverty is not.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Annette

      Thank you Adam. I am a Catholic, albeit not practicing anymore, for precisely this type of hypocricy. The hell with the people who are already born, but, we need to save babies to suffer just in case of poverty. Hypocricy at its worst.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • BR

      B @D X t i a n...........no c r @ ck3r for U

      May 12, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • MarylandBill

      Its not a question of ignoring the good that they do, but it is a basic principle of Catholic (Christian) faith that our evil is not counterbalanced by our good. For the faithful Catholic, abortion is nothing less than the murder of an innocent child. Hundreds of thousands of abortions are performed every year in this country and tens of millions since Roe. Looked at from that perspective (and I know there are other perspectives, but I am talking about the orthodox Catholic perspective), it is almost scandalous that more pro-choice Catholic politicians are not denied communion.

      Annette, why should whether the babies have been born or not make any difference? From a Catholic perspective, whether the babies are born or not is completely irrelevant. They need to be protected. Certainly, helping the poor is an imperative for all Christians, but we can disagree about whether the best way to help them is with government assistance or providing an environment to allow the creation of more jobs, etc. Ultimately, over the course of 2000 years, the Church has never taught that Government has the primary responsibility for caring for the poor; we do!

      May 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  20. Ivy Liz

    Paul, you are aguing your point like a middle school girl with bias opinions.

    May 12, 2011 at 9:48 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.