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. Not All Docs Play Golf

    It's funny how the right wing paranoids blame the "liberal media," which to them is anything left of John Birch. I don't find CNN left wing. Glenn Beck got his start on CNN. Yes there are some news magazine shows like Chris Mathews that lean left, but the main news presentation is unbiased, where with Fox, it's not just the later news magazines that show bias, but actually their main prime-time news presentations are biased.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  2. Michael

    The central issue in American politics is this: even though the richest 2% of Americans own 90% of everything in the country, leaving 98% of us to share the leftovers, they are hellbent on taking that too and will stop at nothing until we are reduced to indentured servitude and have neither the right to life, liberty, nor the pursuit of happiness.
    That is all.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  3. Fredrick

    Cutting WIC is fiscally stupid. Every dollar spent on WIC saves us $2-3 on other programs.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  4. Ron R

    Thr Republcans have a history of siding with big business and the wealthy. If they had their way, there would be no Social Security, Medicare, and Medicade. They hate unions and want to tax the middle class. But cut taxes for the rich fat cats. We will never reduce the national debt until the wealthy pay more in taxes. Bill Clinton had us going in the right direction – then the Bush/GOPERS took us down the wrong road. OBAMA/BIDEN in 2012.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  5. Doug

    A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. She considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat, but her father was a staunch Republican. One day she was challenging her father on his beliefs and his opposition to high taxes and welfare programs.

    He stopped her and asked her, "How are you doing in school?"

    She answered that she had a 4.0 GPA, but it was really tough. She had to study all the time and ever had time to go out and party. She didn't have time for a boyfriend and didn't really have many college friends because she was spending all her time studying. On top of that, the part-time job her father insisted she keep left absolutely no time for anything else.

    He asked, "How is your friend Mary?"

    She replied that Mary was barely getting by. She had a 2.0 GPA, never studied, but was very popular on campus, didn't have a job, and went to all the parties. She was always complaining about not having any money, but didn't want to work. Why, she often didn't show up for classes because she was hung over.

    Dad then asked his daughter why she didn't go to the Dean's office and request that 1.0 be taken off her 4.0 and given it to her friend who only had a 2.0. That way they would both have a respectable 3.0 GPA. Then, she could also give her friend half the money she'd earned from her job so that her friend would no longer be broke.

    The daughter angrily fired back, "That wouldn't be fair. I worked really hard for my grades and money, and Mary just loafs. Why should her laziness and irresponsibility be rewarded with half of what I've worked for?"

    The father slowly smiled and said, "Welcome to the Republican Party

    May 12, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • SeanNJ

      It has nothing to do with money going to poor people. Rich people don't want to contribute to society AT ALL. A lot of people would like to have the opportunity to make an honest buck, so for the last 30 years the conservatives have managed to sell everyone on the idea that trickle-down economics makes sense: give the rich low tax rates and they'll "create jobs."

      The unemployment rate in March was 9.2%, months AFTER the Bush tax cuts were extended. Glad to see all that money's going to hiring workers.

      Trickle-down economics doesn't work in our economy any longer. If improved productivity allows companies to maintain revenues with reduced payroll costs, they will not hire people. The idea that "tax cuts creates jobs" is no longer true.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Michael

      Hey Doug, why don't you try working for 50 years at low pay and no benefits, then not be able to retire because SS doesn't cover the rent and Medicare doesn't cover your medicine; work out the final years of your life bagging groceries at WalMart until you die in an unheated apartment – all the time listening to filthy rich Wall Street types whine about having to pay tax on 300 Million dollars income.
      You disgust me; may you be reborn as a poverty-stricken American victim of corporate greed.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • jnemesh

      This story exemplifies the gross intellectual failing of the Republican Party! "Poor people MUST be lazy or stupid!" "I started poor, and worked my way to being a millionaire, so everyone should be able to do the same!" "I work hard, no one else does!"

      There are MILLIONS of Americans today working EXTREMELY hard to make ends meet, often living below the poverty level. Working multiple jobs trying to feed their families, pay their mortgages, and put their children through school. I wouldn't characterize these people as "lazy". They are just trying to get by! Meanwhile, BILLIONAIRES whine that they pay too much tax!

      These people have so lost touch with their own humanity, that they can not understand why anyone would help people less fortunate. They can not COMPREHEND how someone could fall so low as to lose their home, or their job. They have so bought into the CORRUPTION AND GREED inherent in our lobbyist infested system, that they may actually believe some of the rhetoric that they spout.

      The truly sad part is, that there is a large segment of Americans that AGREE and VOTE for these losers! Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump and Mr. Boener are only relevant AT ALL because ignorant people actually LISTEN to them!

      Enough is enough, people. I am pleading to you to get a brain, THINK FOR YOURSELVES, and get these clowns out of office, or we will all be bowing before our corporate overlords at the alter of ignorance.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • SeanNJ

      @Michael: Probably no need to be reborn since it's happening fast enough now. I have a feeling Doug is one of those Republicans that considers himself "middle class" without realizing the corporate rich are just distracting him by blaming the less fortunate for taking money out of his pocket.

      Poor are getting poorer and the middle class is getting squeezed with longer work hours and no commensurate increase in pay to match their increased productivity over the last 20 years.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  6. Thomas

    Well, Duh...

    He's a republican. What else need be said?

    May 12, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  7. JC

    Lest we forget, Mr. Boehner is being paid by the Koch brothers and he will do their bidding. Adolf Hitler and the Koch brothers = NAZIS so where does that leave Mr. Boehner?

    May 12, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  8. J

    I'm glad that at least some in the religious community aren't blinded by faith when it comes to the legislators they support. Just because he shares your faith doesn't mean he shares your interests. A hard concept for many to grasp.

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

    There is no easy solution. The so called poor have found so many ways to commit fraud that continuing to offer some of these programs has continued to encourage them to sin by committing fraud. It is a double edged sword. Yes, there are those who are truly in need. No, we should not punish all for the actions of some, however the some has grown into a pretty large number. All the 'cash under the table' that is accepted for payment so that they do not have to declare income and still get assistance is just plain wrong folks. Maybe without some of the programs, people will find a way to work again, and live more honestly, again.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Michael

      Oh please. If youtotalled up all the fraud committed by all the welfare cheats in the USA, it would be a drop in the bucket compared with what Wall St. and the military-industrials get away with.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • May

      Michael, two wrongs NEVER make a right. What's wrong is wrong, period.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • BR

      @May – The point is that Boehner and the GOP are quick to target the groups that genuinely need assistance (the ‘so called’ poor, as you phrase it) but give breaks and assistance to the people at the top of the financial food chain.

      Just because the system is abused by some doesn’t mean you trash that system at the expense of the ones truly in need for whom it was created. You don’t amputate an arm because of a bad hangnail. Every system in every area of life and government will foster some percentage who abuses it. You work to tighten the systems checks and balances to minimize it, but some level of abuse is expected. Same goes for the top of the financial food chain but the GOP has consistently weakened the ability to control big business. Gramm–Leach–Bliley was rammed through by the republican congress at the time and is the most significant contributing factor in the current financial state of the US.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  10. Sarah

    Awwww....they probably made Johnny cry.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  11. Norbert Oscar Gordon Oliver Dorian

    There is no god, now shut up.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • lastavius

      so you believe everything just came from nothing. Where did the big bang come from? Where did the substances that caused it come from? God exists rather you have come to know him or not. One day you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is real but by then it may be to late for without faith it is impossible to please him. Do you know everything or have all knowledge. If not then you must admit that possibility that a God-like being might exist. May you come to know intimately the God that gives you breath and life. May you come to know the God that places you in love relationships to nurture you. And may you come to know the God that gives you strength and knowledge to earn a living and care for yourself and loved ones. Even if you don't give him any credit this simply shows how great he is and how desperately wicked you are for not even acknowledging his provisions for you.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Sanjosemike

      lastavius said: "...so you believe everything just came from nothing. Where did the big bang come from? Where did the substances that caused it come from? God exists rather you have come to know him or not. One day you will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is real but by then it may be to late for without faith..."

      sanjosemike responds: Where was your god at Auschwitz? Was he asleep at the switch? Was he dead? Did he feel that it was fine for millions of people to suffer horribly? If I meet god, I will spit in his face. He has a lot of explaining to do....

      May 12, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • BR

      @lastavius – ooh…ooh…ooh…I can play this game too. Where did your god come from? 🙂

      So…..the math and physics behind the proposed singularity and big bang are bogus…but you assert absolute knowledge of something which has never been reliably demonstrated. And you claim to know what this thing wants….and what it does…and what it considers to be wicked. Got it.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  12. yikes

    tons of natural disasters, all people becoming arrogant and self righteous, false teachings (ie prosperity gospel) becoming much more prevalent.....yup id say the Bible predicted al these things as the end times approach and interesting to see how they all are becoming more and more true today.

    Nobody knows when, but surely the signs are coming true. i am a terrible sinner myself and can only ask for forgiveness and the grace in Jesus.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  13. Carl LaFong

    Oh, the hypocrisy. We ALL know how accepting the Catholic Church is to gays, women in the clergy, non-Catholics, abused altar boys, etc.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  14. DC

    I'd like to see these GOP "talking heads" live on the $850 a month I recieve in SSDI/SSI. After rent, utilities, and insurance I may have $80 a month left over for food and gas. Try to live on that, I dare you!!! I worked three jobs most of my life to support my children after my husbands death and this is how I'm treated for doing the right thing, paying my taxes, living by the rules.

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

      No one says it's easy, and no one says you have to 'limit' yourself to living on assistance. God gave everyone a heart, soul and brain, it is time we start using those attributes to better our own lives. Work harder, more honestly and conserve where you can conserve. Many people if but they would zip their lips and get along with family, would not have such high monthly costs if they would live with family. But everyone wants to do their own thing, behave recklessly etc., and not get along, thus pay rent on their own, instead of shared rent. Ego usually gets in the way.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Sanjosemike

      I'm sure you had a tough life. But there is such a thing as "personal responsibility." You had a bunch of children with your husband. Neither of you thought it important to purchase life insurance. Then your husband died and left you without support. Is that OUR fault? I purchased life insurance for my kids. I was raised in poverty too. Don't tell me "life insurance was too expensive." It would have cost your husband less than 2 drinks/month and you wouldn't have lived in poverty.

      There is such a thing as "personal responsibility."


      May 12, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Mike


      Do you really think DC is not working hard? The working class are the hardest workers in the country and unfortunately for them the lowest paid. Meanwhile you got people like me making a lot more money seating comfortably behind a chair.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  15. ingyandbert

    The Teary-Eyed Tan Man is a colossal ass. If he were speaking at my commencement, I wouldn't attend.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  16. Chas in Iowa

    The main differences in our political parties are thus:
    The democrates determine what is needed as a minimum support system to aid the underpriveledged, disabled and elderly. Then they set the tax tables to supply the needed funds.
    The Republicans eliminate as many programs regardless of the impact on our country and lower the taxes on the rich and call it good policy.
    So what we end up with is a legislature that is paralized by the clash of party platforms and the poor and underpriveledged are demonized by the GOP because we are not priveledged like them (as if it was the water we drank as youths spoiled out outlook). The GOP has spent the last six months trying to demonize people who are unemployed (because if they would just go out and get a job they wouldn't have a problem). They try to demonise the police and school teachers because they belong to one of those UNIONS. They try to demonise the poor because they use those FOOD STAMPS. Now they are actively trying to kill medicare and throw the elderly under the bus.
    I sure hope folks are paying attention before they step into the voting booth the next time before the GOP runs this country right into the ground. We'd all be living in caves if they had their way.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  17. AGeek

    What? Someone is realizing the right's rhetoric and actions are in direct contrast to their core religious beliefs?! Hell really *is* freezing over!

    May 12, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  18. Jesus

    Don't make me come down there!

    If I do, I'm zapping the rich for smiting the poor. Remember that time I said, " it is easier for a camel through the eye of a needle to go, than for a rich man to enter into the reign of God," and Matthew wrote that down?

    Yeah, I was just kidding, who do think pays for this cloud on fly on? The tears of poor children?

    And that is my impression of myself as a Republican.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  19. skeptic

    House Speaker John Boehner is a people paid lawmaker for the rich. If Robin Hood robs the rich, John Boehner robs the poor.

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


      May 12, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • J

      But he's catholic and goes to church so that has to make him a great person who loves all people including the poor.....right???

      May 12, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Observer

      What do we expect otherwise? Why are we even surprised? The GOP has brainwashed Americans, and many of the poor, that it's better to have staunch conservative family values (hey, Newt Gingrich) than something resembling "a social network" of support. That is for the weak.
      The Mantra: ..Besides, if we had laws to have the filthy rich contribute a little more, that's socialism... and in truth, you want to be one of US too, so don't limit your own future with taxes for the rich... In the meantime, sorry, go back to your trailerhouse. But you must vote for us and not those democratic communists... They want to spend public money for the public good (#@& socialists) , our money, ehmm sorry, Your money.
      Besides, god loves republicans not democrats. Jesus was a republican, didn't you know? He told jews to give to caesar what is his due. We are the new Caesars, you admire us, don't you? The Trumps (tramps), Palins (failing), the corporate CEOs, mad Madoff, slimey Newts, and more.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  20. bob

    i totatally agree with these professors. John boneHer is always in the media crying drunk about how hard life was for him and his 11 brothers & sisters. You would think he would have more compassion for his fellow impoverished brothers and sisters instead he gets a break , leaves the Democratic party and joins the most richest hateful intollerent party the gop.....The hypocrite republicans have turned Liberal into a bad word. They must remember that we left mother England to become Liberated because she was too staunch and consevative!

    May 12, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • ingyandbert

      Well said.

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


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

      Bob. The words "liberal" (in a political sense) and "liberated" do not have the same meaning. It appears to me that Democrats believe in a "hand-out", while Republicans believe in a "hand up", two uniquely different world views. If I give you a hand out and keep you right where you are you are, beholding to me, and voting for me, because if I go away you may have to actually do something to improve your situation. If I give you a hand up you now have th opportunity to improve your position in and take pride in your accomplishments becoming a productive member of society, rather than a drain on it. The poor will always be with us, but we do them no favors by a system that keeps them poor.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Mike


      Republicans don't believe in a hand out OR hand up. You guys are the party of I got mine, screw everybody else.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • BR

      @JohnM – I agree that liberal and liberate is a false equivocation…but the “hand up” you refer to is not the “teach a man to fish” variety. It’s the “give big business a break “ flavor which only helps the economy long after the fatcat pockets are lined. Trickle down economics leave those at the bottom gasping for the meager leftovers.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:59 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.