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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. knobe

    When the government moves to starve out the low paid workers ,
    The low paid workers end up in violent revolution .
    Our current GOP congress has learned Nothing from history and
    I only hope that I can keep my family out of the turmoil that the GOP is driving America to .

    May 12, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  2. 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 10:35 am |
  3. phoenix

    boehner is a heathen politician the roman church is against self wealth.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  4. EDWARD PAUL RODEN-LUCERO

    As a graduate of CUA and a clergy person, I fully agree with the position of the signers. Boehner's record is a scandal. Even more scandalous is that the American episcopate has not raised hell in the same way they did Obama at Notre Dame. Obama's anti-war, anti-poverty policies find no favor in an episcopacy that has lost its soul.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  5. w7rkd

    Of course he is no friend to the poor nor the middle class, Boehner is too worried about where his next drink is comming from.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  6. Togoiii

    FM, it does, but that does not make good press like the tiny fraction of abusive priests (lesser rate than doctors, teachers, fathers, etc.). The largest Charity in the City of Chicago is Catholic Charities who get the majority of funding from private donors. Catholic Relief Services is one of the largest charities in Haiti and other places around the world. Read beyond the headlines.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  7. rkm63

    The catholic church should stay out of politics and stop influencing our government to confiscate ones personal property to give to another! If the catholic church wants to help the poor, they're free to do so.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  8. John

    The republican Party only care about Is the RICH AND BIG BUSINESS. They don't care about the Middle Class, THE POOR , THE OLD AND the Disabled. And the Tea Party Is Even worst, They just want to get RICHER AND THEY DON"T CARE WHO THEY HURT ON THE WAY.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  9. Apotropoxy

    Boehner is a part of the Calvinist wing of the Roman Catholic Church. It's sacristy is located on Wall Street.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • nordicmetalhead

      Calvinism is a Protestant movement founded in the early Baroque period by John (Jean) Calvin; it has become synonymous with Reformist beliefs and teachings. And what a belief that teaches an interesting form of self-loathing has to do with Wall Street?

      May 12, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  10. A. E. Shaw

    Herbert Hoover believed during the height of the Great Depression that government intervention was morally wrong. He believed that when put to the test, the wealthier Americans would help their neighbors and strangers who were suffering. He believed that deep down humans were good, and would take care of one another.

    12 Million Americans died of starvation during that period.

    The American people kicked Hoover out and elected Roosevelt for Hoover having behaved exactly the same way Republicans are now.

    The New Deal and Roosevelt's social safety nets saved and continue to save millions of lives.

    Forced charity via government intervention and manipulation is necessary because frankly humans are lazy, apathetic, and are self-serving parasites who care little for their fellow humans' welfares. Yet without other humans bearing the brunt of hard labor, those that consider themselves successful by way of self-reliance give no credit to the millions of other humans that helped form the infrastructure that leads to success.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Tristate

      well said.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  11. ruducky2

    People who experience success often forget what advantages they had on their way to success. This is especially true of the 'self-made' who tend to view the unsuccessful with scorn and view their actions as grasping and lazy.

    Boehner is a 'self-made' millionaire who fits into this mold. No doubt he worked hard to make himself and no doubt he sacrificed. Now, like many of his ilk, still feeling the sacrifice of that past hard work he concludes that the unsuccessful are where they are at because of choice.

    But like his ilk Boehner fails to see his advantages. He speaks of working long hours in his parent's pub without recognizing that few have parents who can so provide. He also, I imagine, fails to recognize how many other advantages that situation alone got him. How many of his subsequent opportunities were the result of networking through his parent's business?

    Boehner was obviously raised in an environment where those around him taught him that setbacks are met and overcome with determination and that the reward is at the end of the tunnel. He was also taught how to make choices and guided so that the consequences of mistakes would not end the game. Few get that instruction because for far too many the people around them have the experience of setbacks leading to hopelessness and any reward at the end of the tunnel always seems to land in the pocket of somebody else. For the poor there is no descent guide and the mistakes almost always take them back to zero (or worse).

    May 12, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  12. FM

    It is the commission of the church to take care of the poor not the government.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  13. Togoiii

    Jack, the "Church" is not complaining, the managers of insitutions who get some of their funding from your tax dollars are squaking about that source of funds drying up. Read.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  14. 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 10:26 am |
    • geoffrey

      I can certainly appreciate your sentiments. In fact, there is much merit in your assertion. In addition, why are we paying $4.00 a gallon for gas? Why have we spent $2.6 trillion fighting an invisible enemy? Why are 90% of all US retail goods made in China? Why does an elected official start campainging the day after they win an election? Why is America racially polarized? Who were the Freedom Riders?..........How many years do we have left before we destroy each other?

      May 12, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  15. Migel

    When the Catholic church starts paying taxes, then they can have a voice in how my tax dollars are spent!

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

      Simply Put!

      May 12, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • M-W-T

      Just the Catholic church......why not ALL churches?

      May 12, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Mat

      That money is put to much better use than the tax money. I certainly dont want money from the church going to fund war.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  16. Togoiii

    Dan Dalton, you are a bigotted idiot and a midless basher. It is so easy to be critcal whn you completely forget all of the good. Sell the Catholic schollds, are you just plain stupid? Teach to fish, don't hand out fish. The Catholic Church started the education system. In a city like Chicago, as a whole, 90+% graduate from highschool and go on to college (some scholls are 995). The public highschools don't even graduate 40%, college far less. Billions in Vatican bank accounts? Right. Even if it there was 5 billion, what happens when you give every one of the worlds poor $1 besides then have no money and the 5 billion poor are still dirt poor. Moron.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  17. TJC

    What utter nonsense. In our zeal to "give away to the poor" we now have half the populace that don't pay income taxes and just look live off of government handouts. The MOST IMMORAL part of this approach is the THOSE WHO ARE DISABLED AND ILL do not get the resources they deserve or need. Now that is immoral.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Busted2010

      It's your lack of knowledge that's causing you problems. A reason why the rich pay so much in taxes is because the massive redistribution of wealth casued by Bush's tax cuts. If the majority of wealth in this nation was w/the middle class then the middle class would pay a greater percentage of the taxes, do you see how this connection works? The fact that such a small percentage of the population pays such a high percentage in taxes means that the Bush's tax cuts trickle down effect never took place.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  18. Robert Richardson

    The Bible says if a man won't work neither shall he eat.The Bible does not teach that anyone has a right to mooch off of society.

    2Thess 3:10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • nordicmetalhead

      Keep reading, Robert.. you're missing something:

      2 Thessalonians 3:10 (New International Version)
      10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

      UNWILLING != UNABLE. Your Greek sucks along with your excuses to avoid Christian responsibility.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • baloney

      @nordic

      how does unwilling = unable? not disagreeing with you but i don't see how u can say those two words are synonymous

      May 12, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • nordicmetalhead

      @baloney: The symbol "!=" is nomenclature for "NOT equal to", used within most C-derivative programming languages as well as in mathematical logic.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • geoffrey

      Here'e a thought: If one can not provide for his family the......by any means neccessary ...Malcom X

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

      I agree to that for people who would rather wait on handouts than work. What about the sick, elderly, the children and those who cannot work. They should starve and die?

      May 12, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Claire

      Stop trying to use the bible as a way to deny assistance to the less fortunate Just say that you don't want to help by contributing, period. Stop being a coward, don't use a book to justify your own beliefs.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  19. Jack

    Let see,the church complaining about boehner. The church has such wealth. Ever been to the vatican. Jesus would strike down the church if he came back. How much of the federal budget goes to helping the needy. Half. That sounds like a large sum of money. Maybe everyone here should give all their money to the needy. and stop asking the government to. Remember, the government gets its money from taxation. If I remember, that is also a no no.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • nordicmetalhead

      So how much do YOU give?

      May 12, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Claire

      Why shouldn't the government help the most needy? Why shouldn't a government for and by the people help the people who need it?

      May 12, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Annette

      No Jack...check the facts...only 12% goes to discretionary spending (in case you do not know, that includes many social programs that help the needy). We spend 19% on military. We care about WARS more than people. I am the Government and I want to help the poor with some of my tax money (And I pay plenty here in Georgia where we hate poor people but love state money). We love corporations and giving to corporate charity but the hell with people. Exxon really needs my Government money.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  20. BR

    Boehner is a sanctimonious tool who only uses the convictions that serve him in a given moment. Alternate definition-politician; see also 'Theist'.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:21 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.