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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. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Republicans are known for holding the Bible in one hand and the devil in the other in the name of religion just to get a vote.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  2. Not All Docs Play Golf

    GOP = Guardians of Privilege. What's most disgusting is the religious right wingers who adhere to the new
    "prosperity gospel." It's a horrible interpretation that God will reward you with wealth if you are loyal to him, and it's turned around to be interpreted that your wealth is derived from your Christian life. The richer you are, the more Christian you must be!

    May 12, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Sanjosemike

      I'm a doc and I don't play golf either. Prosperity is not evil. It allows people to pay for their children's education. As you know, a medical education is extremely expensive. I fail to see your logic in eschewing personal responsibility to achieve a better life. It is the American dream. It is not evil.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  3. Sanjosemike

    On another blog showing here on CNN, a Catholic religious group is funding a "house" where drunks are permitted to drink themselves to death. While I don't necessarily discourage this, it is a contradiction in terms for a Catholic organization to deliberately fund euthansia. Will Catholics posting here please explain this to me? I'd really like to know.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Nick

      Euthanasia is when your doctor kills you, and is one step beyond doctor-assisted suicide. Allowing someone to drink himself to death is . . . Irish.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Sanjosemike

      Nick said: "Euthanasia is when your doctor kills you, and is one step beyond doctor-assisted suicide. Allowing someone to drink himself to death is . . . Irish."

      sanjosemike responds: While I loved your post, assisted suicide still cannot be "encouraged" by the Catholic Church, as it is completely against it. One can "play with the words" and not call it euthanasia, but it is is still assisted suicide.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  4. johnnie

    Can we force a man to work that will not work....can we force a man to eat that will not eat....can we force a man to learn who will not learn......can we force a man to give who will not give.....the answer to all is no.

    Jesus message is simply...only the tree that has roots will bear fruit worth eating....the roots are god and the holy spirit within the family and the fruit is our lord jesus personified in the child......

    No govt...no corporation....no church can produce what the family can....but what the "well rooted" family can produce can produce people for sound gov't, prosperous corporations and vibrant church communities.....restore and maintain the family and the grace of each member and you are on your way....

    May 12, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Sanjosemike

      Your post sounds very nice. But it is extremely naive. The only way out of poverty for families is NOT to have children they can't afford. The other is "personal responsibility." Your church encourages over-population. When it ignored the plight of children who were being r***d by priests, it did not force those priests to face the law. Even now it is shielding Bernard Law from prosecution. Your church has much to answer for...it appears.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  5. DavidK

    Hey Rush....speaking of calling out Jesus' name on behalf of the people.......didn't God tell W to invade Iraq?

    May 12, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Sanjosemike

      I assume that you'd like Qusay or Uday Hussein in power now in Iraq? If we had not invaded Iraq, that would have happened.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Eric G

      @Sanjosemike: So, keeping them out of power was worth 3000 American Soldiers lives and 2.7 trillion dollars?

      May 12, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  6. Eric G

    Cut the defense budget.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  7. Tvice31

    Hey Catholics, you gonna let your church deny you communion? Christ accepts all types of people. It is not the CHURCH's place to decide whether or not you recieve communion. Go to any other church and hear the true Word.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  8. chip

    Jesus never advanced a notion that the government should supply the needs of the people. That's the job of the church, and individuals. "Social justice" completely removes the personal aspect that Jesus pointed out as the most important, as did Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. You can give all you have to the poor, but if you have not love, you are NOTHING. It's hilarious to see liberal propaganda taking a position that someone is not "Christian" enough in his politics. Absurd.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Robert

      Exactly, Jesus teache sto take care of the poor and the widows – he was speaking to the "church" and not the government.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • BlackPanther's2020

      Everything is liberal with some of you white people , but is it the liberals that is sending your family to the poor house , I think not , the racsit republican party is destroying this country from within , instead of taking care of the needy , they funnel our tax dollars to the wealthiest of the country , and a lot of you who are a pay-check away from poverty constantly support a party that is taking away everything away from us ...........wake up people this country is not just for whites and the wealthy , it's for everyone that wants to live here...............

      May 12, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  9. Nick

    I graduated from Catholic University. Lefties hate CUA because it is thoroughly Catholic and does not countenance abortion. Righties also dislike CUA because it does not endorse winner-take-all capitalism.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  10. Thatguy371

    No just Boener, but the vast majority of the repubs share that view. Not everyone is able to beat the odds and become well off, and for that the repubs seem to be unable to shake their gross disdain of them. Pathetic.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  11. Duncan McAllister

    How many billions is the Vatican sitting on??????

    Seems like that could help the poor, a little more than a new Monet or a new hat for the Pope.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  12. tarzensiscok

    since the whites started the Tea Party The Blacks browns and Asians brothers should start the chocolate party. Great idea!!!!

    May 12, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  13. Commonsenseplz

    IT IS SO SAD THAT WE (MOST AMERICAN) ARE WILLING TO BALANCE THE BUDGET ON THE BACKS OF THE POOR, SENIOR AND DISABLE, INSTEAD OF THE RICH AND CORPORATION (THRU FAIR TAXING), END TO OIL COMPANIES SUBSIDIES, PLUS TAX BREAKS AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT TO COUNTRY THAT WOULD SEE US (INFIDEL) DEAD.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Brian

      Fair Taxing? Fair taxing would be to divide the budget by 300 million and have everybody pay an equal share. Your idea of fair is 'they make more money than me, they don't deserve it'

      May 12, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Commonsenseplz

      Dear Brian,

      The word fair is clearly a word not clear to you. The Rich only pay between 16% and 25% of their income ON TAXES, while other pay none due to good tax accountants and tax loopholes, when the middle-class and working poor pay 28% OR MORE, THIS IS WHAT I CALL UNFAIR

      May 12, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Brian

      Commonsenseplz... that's interesting. Especially since the top 1% in America pay 38% of all income taxes compared to earning just 20% of all the money. The top 10% pays 70% of all income taxes despite earning just 45% of all the money. I would love to know how any of that is fair? Fair to you is taking away from the ones who earn it and giving it to the ones who don't. You, and other liberals, don't know what fair is

      May 12, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Brian

      That's also interesting since the 'working poor' only pay about 10%-15% of their income on federal taxes (because of Bush) The top bracket is 33%, and we have the 2nd highest corporate taxes in the entire world

      May 12, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Commonsenseplz

      Brian,

      You number are misleading because they are based on the bottom line (top 1% as a whole) and not the indiviual tax payer.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Brian

      Commonsenseplz... so in other words... my numbers are misleading because they are true and you can't prove them wrong.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  14. Tony

    Catholics are hypocrites, they call birth control a sin.. and are partially responsible for the cycle of poverty many of these people endure having children they cant afford to feed. Maybe if the catholic church didnt spend all their money bailing pedophile preists out .. they could afford to help the poor and stop expecting the taxpayer to foot the bill.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  15. Greenspam

    If Jesus Christ were alive today, he would be a Democrat.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Brian

      Ya... because I'm sure he's all for abortion

      May 12, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Eric G

      I thought he was a Capricorn?

      May 12, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Robert

      On the contray he would be preaching personal responsibility and a message of personal salvation. He teaches to take care of the poor and the widows. He was referrring to the church not the government.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • rosiepetunia

      Love that.....and your right!

      May 12, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  16. Migel

    Religion has no place in this discussion. Not one denomination in this country pays any taxes. Since Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty started, this country has spent trillions of dollars on programs that have had no effect on poverty. What we have today is a third generation that is sucking on the government teat while producing the next non-productive generation.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Sanjosemike

      Actually, you are correct. Government anti-poverty programs always fail because they don't encourage the ONE thing that will lead to less poverty: Not having children you can't afford. There is such a thing as "personal resonsibility." Government does nothing to encourage it.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  17. Padraig

    Catholics in this country are a very interesting group who in most part do not live up to the teachings. I am a Catholic and have watched them closely over a half a century.

    The Catholics in this country only follow the rules that they want to follow. One example is rigtht to life. The last report I saw was that the majority of the Catholics belong to the Democratic party. That is fine, nothing wrong with that. The problem that I have is as CATHOLIC and to follow the teachings of Jesus is you are to preserve life. In the last election the majority of the Catholics in this nation voted for our current President. President Obama if a firm supporter of Plan Parenthood and is Pro Choice. They would prefer to save a person in prison who is schedled to be executed than a baby.

    Many of the priests and nuns that are in our colleges and universities are socialists. The quickly condemn but refuse to see in their own eyes how they are hypocrites. One item to prove my point is the cost of education. Look at the tuition at Notre Dame, Boston College, Seattle University, or their parochial schools. Very high and increasing. Yes they give credits and grants but only to a few. The others pay to cover.

    These are the same priests and bishops who build grand cathedrals in Los Angeles that cost millions of dollars. Maybe they should have been less ostentatious and spend less and take the money to help the local community. Bishop Law covering for pedophile priests is another example. He should have been kicked out and turned over to the authorities for abetting.

    I am not a perfect Catholic, far from it. But I have one thing that many Catholics have lost which is ethics and integrity.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • eringobraugh

      Your obervations are correct. Both parties reflect hypocricy with their opposing stands of capital punishment and abortion. I am often asked how I can be RC and Republican. My moral fiber isn't defined by either of those organizations. If one chooses fiscal responsiblities as a priority, it does not demand the absence of responsibility to the less fortunate either. Things are just simply not that black and white.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  18. Luis Wu

    It never ceases to amaze me how so-called Christians oppose almost all programs to help the poor. Jesus was all about helping the poor. That was his main focus. Yet supposedly Christian, rich Republicans always vote against social programs for the poor. How utterly hipocritical. Sure, there are some who take advantage of welfare, who cheat and steal from the pot, but the answer is to find them and prosecute them, not to do away with welfare programs altogether. I just hope people will wake up and see that these people are not really Christians at all. Just vile pigs giving lip service to religion in order to get more votes.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Padraig

      Interesting thoughts. So my question to you is. Do you give a person a fish or teach them to fish?

      May 12, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • yummm

      i throw it in the deep fryer and dip it in some tartar sauce 🙂

      May 12, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • AJerseyG1rl

      @Padraig: Either way, they both require a "social program" to accomplish the goal at hand. Create a program to teach them how to fish, or one that will put a fish in their hand. So, my question to you is – the point of your comment was...?

      May 12, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Robert

      As Christians we ARE to help the poor. The government takes away that personal responsibility from the mandate of Christ. Christians, maybe not catholics, do give to the poor in large ways through charitable donations, volunteerism and mission trips.. We believe it is the individual responsiblity versus giving the government that responsibility. Liberals do not believe in personal rsponsibility. They hide behinfd the governemt so as to ease their collective conscience make themselves feel holier than thou !!!.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • John Hardin

      "It never ceases to amaze me how so-called Christians oppose almost all programs to help the poor."

      Christians are all for Christian charity to aid the poor. It's not Charity if it's collected at gunpoint.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Dave

      Jesus didn't come for the poor.

      He came for the poor and the rich and the self-righteous and the rebelious and every other category you can think of. He came so that he could die on the cross and solve our greatest problem: our enmity towards God.

      I don't say this to minimize the importance of taking care of the poor – that is one of the ways Christians are to demonstrate their relationship with the God who rescued them from true spiritual poverty – but to reply to your completely misguided statement that Jesus' purpose was to relieve earthly suffering.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Frustrated_in_Wrigley

      An interesting analogy as I believe that Jesus in fact gave both.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Commonsenseplz

      Well Said!!!!!!!!!

      May 12, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Commonsenseplz

      JUST TO BE CLEAR.

      Well Said, Luis Wu

      May 12, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Frank

      Paidrig, that's a false choice. Funding education is a perfect example. The access to education may be the "fish", but it's still up to the parents and kids to do the fishing.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  19. Brian

    Really? They are going to talk to a guy who grew up in a poor family of like 10 brothers and sisters and who had to work as a janitor through 8 years of college to pay for it about what poor people need? What a joke

    May 12, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Jesus

      Boener's tale of hard times doesn't excuse his brutality toward the poor. His voting record speaks to a person without any empathy or understanding of poverty. He has become the voice of hatred.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Brian

      What brutality? Can you explain please his brutality... what has he done that is so brutal?

      May 12, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • lysander

      Denying them access to services that help them keep food on the table seems pretty brutal.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • J

      So what has he done as a congressman to share that knowledge exactly? Just becuase he made it doesn't mean his policies are enabling others to do so.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • bob

      Brian the gop cuts all the programs for the poor and never creates jobs for the needy. look @ how they are trying to bust up all of the unions ,screwing up medicade & medicare for the eldely. Rich republicans care for no one but themselves. I'll bet you are poor and republican but affiliate with them because they are white and racist. republicans are of no help to the poor, women or the elderly of any race!

      May 12, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Brian

      bob... that's interesting considering black unemployment has gone up under every single Republican president since 1970. How is the unemployment rate going under obama? Bush had 54 straight months of job growth, the longest stretch in American history. Reagan created 14 million jobs. How has obama been doing?

      May 12, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • cgold

      Now is now, that was the past. Repubs generally care about only one thing, money. Getting more of it, keeping it, yachts, golf etc. (guns, religion and abortion are just tools to stir up support in the midwest). Boehner is just another cookie cutter Repub.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  20. T C

    Catholic professors don't speak for the Catholic Church. This article is a bunch of media driven hype. The headline shoud be "Liberal College Professors Side with Democratic Policies". That would not have gotten much attention but is closer to the truth.

    May 12, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      You obviously share an arrogant disdain for the poor.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • casper

      Look at his record and compare that to the Catholic church's mission: help the poor. He is against social programs for the needy and for big rich white guys making more money, paying less taxes, and skirting around environmental protection (which help the poor, duh).

      May 12, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Brian

      Absolutely the truth T C. And it's funny how democrats say repubs don't care about the poor when statistically Republicans donate much more time and money to charity

      May 12, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Sean

      Brian do you have any statistics to prove that statement? My personal experience would indicate otherwise but maybe you have a source we should all be able to reference.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Jesus

      Closer to the truth? The truth is that Boener is a sycophant for immoral wealthy GOP types. His voting record brutalizes the poor and seniors.

      May 12, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Brian

      Sean... ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Just about every study in the U.S shows this.

      http://abcnews.go. com/2020/story?id=2682730&page=1

      May 12, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Dave

      @ Brian...you are an idiot conservative, that is obvious. It will be a great pleasure of mine to see the republican party thrown into extinction. Fun times for all!

      May 12, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Brian

      Dave... you make a good argument "your an idiot!" really proves me wrong

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

      @Sean

      To come to the defense of Brian:

      "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism - America's Charity Divide"
      by Arthur C. Brooks
      ISBN – 10:0465008232
      ISBN – 13:9780465008230
      Published 2007.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • lysander

      You're right. Only liberal catholics care about the poor and their silly problems.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Sean

      Brian I read the article and it supports me rather than you. Rich people give less to help others than poor people.
      I have to say though that I am not sure that their sample was statistically valid. I was however surprised and have to give you credit for pointing out the conservative vs. liberal donation myth. I'll grant you the cons. vs. lib but I stand by the original concept.
      Rich people should be supporting the poor not belittling them for not having the same opportunities.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Hutch

      @Sean,

      One of the things in the book I posted is also the relative wealth of democrats and republicans and as surprising as it sounds, the democrats are generally more wealthy than the republicans. Democrats tend to give more through governmental policies, such as welfare programs. The republicans tend to contribute more to charity. For more information, I'll recommend the book.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Brian

      Sean... what article were you reading? It said that Republicans give more than liberals... and that religious people give more than nonreligious people. Basically if you think the government should provide for people, you are a stingy jerk with your money, and if you believe that people should help people then you give away your money

      May 12, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Frank

      There are several ways to give. I know many liberal democrats with Master's degrees that chose into jobs that pay less but have a more direct benefit to society. It's a typical response in our society to think more money means you are somehow better than someone else. Jesus' teachings were often about service and sacrifice – not how much you give (the parable about the poor giving one cent was seen as greater than then 1000 by the rich.) I always think of Jesus washing of the feet as an example on how to live. Our Lord washing his disciples' feet!

      Often those donations are used to provide financial support to those who decided to serve society rather than to choose a job to make a profit.

      Anecdotally, I'll say that more Democrats choose into society service jobs than Republicans do.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:54 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.