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. James

    I love how Lush Rimbough claims that the Liberals only use Christ when it suites them. As if the Republicans haven't hijacked Christianity for their own purposes. They claim to have "family values" but have made it so both parents need to work. They Claim to be Christian but do everything in their power to take from the poor to give to the rich. But hey they're pro-life so Christians should vote for them. Yet we are still gridlocked on the issue of abortion. No one is trying to do anything to limit abortion other than talk about banning it all together. Never mind supporting the unwed mother or the child born in poverty. Don't streamline the adoption process. They only care about Abortion in order to garner, without any effort, the votes of Christians. Yes the budget needs to be cut but it is interesting that we cut the programs for the poor before we even started the discussion about aid for oil companies. We can fund endless wars that cost more than every other program combined but we can't feed our poor. HYPOCRISY lives and breeds in our government.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  2. MMK2

    I'm an African American catholic in Cincinnati and glad to see the concern about Mr. Boehner's record and the poor. What's really sad is that he went a very good high catholic high school and I guess he only passed part of his lessons. He and the new Governor of Ohio are two in the same. What should also be noticed is Mr. Boehner's lack of visibility with people of color. Very rarely, with the exception of a recent trip to Moeller High where he attended has he been seen with anyone of color nationally or locally.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  3. baloney

    there is a happy medium, yes our govt should have programs and provide for the poor but it also should not do it so much that we do become a welfare state.....the Bible does mention that we should take initiative upon ourselves to help the poor (and not rely on caesar, aka the govt) but we cannot sit here and say that that means the govt should not help at all.....hypocrisy on both the left and right has run rampant and each party only uses Jesus when it suits their needs.

    I'm a Christian and i think budget cuts should be distributed evenly across the board.....I'm so sick of both republicans & democrats, fox news & msnbc, nobody wants to have legitimate debate/discussion anymore.....but then again it all comes down to selfishness and I guess that's just human nature, if only we could emulate Jesus' actions more 🙁

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

      I think your idea is much more balanced idea and I fully agree!

      May 12, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  4. rich

    The professors at Catholic have bought into the Leftist idea that they way to take care of some of the people is for the government to take from others by force. This is not teaching of Jesus Christ, who advocated personal charity. If the professors or the posters here want to support the poor, they should give personally or give to Catholic Charities, not support a Leftist regime like the Obama regime which advocates jailing those who don't obey government mandates. This regimes Leftis ideology will destroy the Church if it can. (Another suggestion for the professors is to give back the contribution that they get from plate collections in the parishes and take a cut in pay so that the money can be used for the poor...)

    May 12, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • JJ Jones

      You know nothing of the teachings of Christ. These modern day Republicans are not real Christians.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  5. JJ Jones

    Boehner lives by the 11th Commandment. Thou shalt give preferential treatment to big oil, big pharma and insurance companies.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • NoWay

      Wrong!! He lives by NO commandment.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  6. Aezel

    On one hand you have the "we support and protect pedophiles" crowd. On the other hand you have the slime ball religious right wing patsy. Can we just put them all in a cage match and let them go at it? A curse on both your heads.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  7. Togoiii

    Todd, amen. BIGRED, I give to Chatholic Charities. Does Joe Biden? Alison, you can give what ever preferential treatment of money and time to the poor. It is not up to you to give my or anyone else's taxes. Personal behavior is very different from deciding what to do with other peoples time and money. Wake-up people. It is not the job of politicians to relieve their guilt by using YOUR money to give to the charity of THEIR choice. Better to give the poor a job than a handout.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • America Shrugged

      So you think all the poor in this country don't work? Ever hear of the working poor? There are more working poor than those just sitting around waiting for your handout. So do you really mean that you'd rather give a poor person a living wage job rather than a handout? Take a look at this bill number...It's HR1...Know what that means? It's the first bill the Teapublican House put out...It's major cuts to all the programs that help the poor and working poor. One other question, " Where's the jobs " the teapublicans campaigned on? Oh yeah, that would come after gutting the federal budget and repealing HRC..

      May 12, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  8. Shirl

    Don't forget that Democrats support working people and poor when you vote

    May 12, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  9. dan dalton


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

      Because the Catholic church always wants someone else to pay the fare. We're just lucky they haven't managed to get the U.S. government to pay the settlements for the actions of their pedophile priests!

      May 12, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  10. OrangeMandate

    I find it interesting that Kerry and Kennedy who supported the needy all their life is ranked in with the Smoking Orange man who only supports the wealthy. Boehner needs to retire and get a real clue about the people he is supposed to support that don't contribute money to him.
    I find it interesting that we are supposed to think that Kerry and Kennedy are worse than Boehner. This is the real reason that the Catholic church is loosing so many of thier followers. They realise that some decisions made by the church does not fit their values and the Pope is outdated. What next another list of songs and movies that can be watched like in the 80's or have as many children as your wife can bear? 🙁

    May 12, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  11. Anna

    Ummmm...how do Catholics get off criticizing ANYONE, least of all the poor?? Talk about casting stones!

    May 12, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  12. Rabbi David

    I love how the media WITH an agenda to support it's regime can drag a "religious" organization into the spotlight as a "moral authority" to condem anyone or anything. This group of "fleas" compared to Rome and the REAL seat of Catholic opinion is a joke.Its like George Soros trotting out 400 Rabbis who he puts money in their pockets, to say that Glen Beck is somehow a "bad" person for telling the truth about a lot of things Soros would rather you not hear about.
    If I were one of those Catholics I'd feel free to start supporting the poor by dumping their money into all those causes they want the rest of America's taxpayers to fund.Then I'd get down and do a lot of praying because from abused minorities world wide to Jews persecuted in the middle ages right up to the molestations that are endless,Catholicism has a lot to question ITSELF about and ZERO moral authority to condem anyone or anything. People in glass houses should not toss stones.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  13. dan dalton


    May 12, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Kevin

      Typing in capital letters tells me a lot about you, so I really don't need to respond to your ignorant comment.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  14. CJ33

    Republicans hate poor people. They hate women. They want them to die, and will proclaim "it is god's will". They want to impose their extremist social views on the rest of society. They are bad people. Very, very bad people.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Frogist

      @CJ33: Well that's some rhetoric for ya. I just wonder, do you think they really WANT women to die and the poor to suffer? Or is it all maneuvering just so they can stay in office? It's just hard for me to think people can be that cruel. I can understand distracted by greed much easier than deliberately cruel.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  15. Kris

    The Catholic Church or John Boehner giving moral advice is the equivalent of Susan Smith giving parenting advice.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  16. Elizabeth

    The poor and the needy means nothing to the republicans. Their circle of protection is for the rich.
    It has always been the democratic Party that provide and protect valuable programs for the poorest and most vulnerable .
    I am Catholic by Faith and a Democrat by Party.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  17. mattmchugh

    Despite all the practical and philosophical problems inherent in government attempts to redistribute wealth (Tax-and-Spend! Socialism! Welfare State! Coddling! Disincentivising! ...and whatever other sound bites conversative speechwriters come up) working to provide basic needs and opportunities for all citizens is something a nation - particularly a democratic one - ought to make a priority.

    For all their posturing about Christian values, "F–k the Poor!" is part the ideological bedrock of the Republican Party. It's interesting to see the Catholic Church, still the planet's largest and most influential Christian sect, call them on the carpet for it.

    - mm

    May 12, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Drake

      It's easy for members of a group that are failing their own mission to point fingers and blame someone else. We, as followers of Jesus, are guilty of not feeding the poor. By blaming the politicians, we are shirking our own responsibility. The government will never be able to do what we, the church, can do to uplift those in need. The Catholic Church needs to step up their mission and stop pointing fingers.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  18. David

    If you notice the things that seem to be getting cut these days, they are things to groups of people who do not (and/or cannot) donate to the politicians' campaigns. Politicians never want to cut from those groups who donate the most to their campaigns, (i.e. the rich, large corporations, military equipment suppliers, etc.).

    May 12, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • JoeG

      Yeah you'd think this would be painfully obvious by now.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Um OK

      Obvious, yet they keep getting away with it. It is very soon torches and pitchforks time.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  19. TG

    These "group of 70 professors, priests, nuns and others" condemns House Speaker John Boehner for his "record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor ", and yet said little or nothing regarding the pedophilia priests of the Catholic church. This is a distortion of justice. These focus on the "needs of poor" in a physical way, but fail to address the needs of the "poor" in a spiritual way. Jesus told John the Baptist, through his disciples, that "the poor are having the good news declared to them."(Matt 11:5)

    Jesus, when in a synagogue just before beginning his ministry, said to the listening Jews, quoting from Isaiah 61: "Jehovah’s spirit is upon me, because he anointed me to declare good news to the poor, he sent me forth to preach a release to the captives and a recovery of sight to the blind, to send the crushed ones away with a release, to preach Jehovah’s acceptable year.”(Luke 4:18, 19)

    These "group of 70 professors, priests, nuns and others", have not taught the "good news of the kingdom" to anyone, in imitation of Jesus Christ, but have skirted it.(Luke 8:1) Those who loyally follow in Jesus footsteps (1 Pet 2:21), listen to Jesus and make known "the good news of the kingdom" in their respective locality to "the poor".(Matt 24:14)

    May 12, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Hugo

      I believe the Republicans, in the time of Jesus, were called the Romans. Look what happened to them.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • HN

      Jesus and Bible are very different. Bible was written by folks centuries after Jesus's death. Jesus preached pure unadultrated love and sacrifice for fellow human. Everything in bible is rules to control population just like Quran.
      Nobody except Mother Teresa, MLK truly followed Jesus. Many follow the bible but that is not very game changing.

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

      Please tell me what pedophila has to do with addressing the needs of the poor? This goes beyond religion, and has to do with a sense of deceny and morality to help those in need. Nice way for you to try to attack the Catholic Church. I'm sure you search articles all over yahoo, cnn, fox etc to find ways to bash Christianity.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Um OK

      Hugo, by the time of Jesus, the Roman republic had fallen away as the middle class was eliminated due to low cost foreign labor (slaves from conquest). The Empire was in full swing, with most citizens of Rome living in poverty, with few rights while the elite lived in extreme wealth. Sound familiar? So yes, the Roman rulers were very much like our rulers today.

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

      @TG: Are you saying that these people of faith never spread the word of their god to those in need? That's presumptuous of you. How do you know that? Seems a little judgemental without having facts to prove what you are saying...

      May 12, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Sk8rgrownup

      HN...the books of the New Testament were written no more than 100 years after the death of Jesus, most of them were written no later than 50 years after. The Old Testament was written WAY before Jesus walked the earth. If you read the New Testament, it calls Christans to imitate Christ by loving, being selfless, putting the needs of others in front of your own, spreading the good news of Jesus. I do agree most Christans today focus on what they are not doing (i.e. sinning) rather than focusing on what they are called to do..."If I focus my attention on imitatiing Christ, I will not have time to sin" -John Wimber. Praise God for His GRACE!

      May 12, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  20. GonzoG

    Conservatives (especially social conservatives) stick to their guns about enforcing their beliefs on others. Love it when they get called to task for not following the core religious principles of charity.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Mulebomber

      charity by force is not charity

      May 12, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Sean

      Maybe some people believe charity should be left to NGOs rather than the federal government

      May 12, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • david

      But wait, aren't Republicans the party of "strong Christian values?" When will middle class conservatives wake up and realize the GOP is ONLY out for the best interests of industry and business–the people who line their campaign coffers? Boehner doesn't care one whit about abortion and God, people, he cares about money and his re-election. Grow up.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Um OK

      Cutting services for the poor and elderly to support mindless foreign wars? It is just demented and evil. We deserve to fall.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Frogist

      So when it comes to anti-gay or anti-abortion "Christian" values, the gov't must play a part, but when it comes to aid for the weak and poor "Christian" values the gov't must not take part? Sounds like a bit of a double standard coming from Boehner and his crew.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:29 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.