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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. Michael

    The whole civilized world is way, way left of the USA. We are the only major fascist nation of the 21st century. And yes, fascists are right-wing extremists, no matter what the Tea Party line may be. Try cracking open a history book sometime and look at the relationship between fascism and socialism in the 20th century. Hitler went after the communists before he went after the Jews. Fascism is as close to socialism as Glenn Beck is to Rachel Maddow. Well not quite but close – I wouldn't call Maddow a socialist.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  2. steve

    We are a Christian nature...we are NOT a Christian nation...I'm confused. Help me GOP. Please

    May 12, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  3. Sam

    I believe in a America... where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source.

    -JFK, 1960

    May 12, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  4. Bwin1

    Catholics are such hypocrites. They're anti abortion but expect taxpayers to pay for unwanted children who need welfare. Essentially, the anti-abortion stance leads to more welfare and a greater burden on taxpayers . . . and many of the very wealthy are themselves Catholic who don't want to pay anymore in taxes for any reason . . . added social services among them. They are also very clannish and if a non-Catholic deserves kudos for a special effort, that effort goes unrecognized. For them, only Catholics deserve recognition. Catholics suck.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  5. JOSEPH BINDA

    "LET IT BE KNOWN THAT HE WHO SUPPORTS LEADER/LEADERS THAT OPPRESSED THE POOR IS ALSO GUILTY OF
    OPPRESSION"

    May 12, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  6. Bill McL

    Christian religious leaders (whether protestant or catholic) should know that a biblical precedent for charity is the gleaning. Farmers left the corners of the field un-harvested so the poor could come in and gather the grain. This cut out the middle man, or the government, from of the picture. In the biblical book of Ruth, we see a landowner doing just this, and get some insights into how it works. The compassionate could always provide more, as does Boaz for Ruth. Landowners could hire diligent gleaners, so it could become a direct path to a job, unlike present day government charity. You would not be generous with a known drug dealer, but I have personally seen cases where government subsidies (home, food stamps, etc) plus church charity could not possibly keep up with a young mother's drug habit. Another point from Ruth: wealthy farmers, like today's small business owners, were able to hit the ground running after an economic downturn (or bibical famine). They were anchors for their communities. Tax these people to death, and who will bring us out of the next recession?

    May 12, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Michael

      Yeah Bill, make the poor beg for food – that sounds like George Washington's America doesn't it? The rich own everything and the rest of us are left to hope they leave some cereal grains for us to pick off the ground and keep our kids from starving?
      I think I don't like your version of Christianity.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Bill McL

      As a church deacon, I have received a call to pay an electric bill for someone, arranged to pay half, then googled a church near that person's home, arranged for them to pay the other half PLUS pay them a visit. This connects a person to a community of faith in their neighborhood. It is better than a person remaining anonymous.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  7. Kate

    Boehner spoke at my commencement in 2006. He is a graduate of my school (Xavier University) and had not yet garnered quite as much power as he has now. Nonetheless I don't remember a single word he said. Maybe another issue here is that schools should pick more inspiring commencement speakers, ha.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Publius Novus

      How was his tan?

      May 12, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  8. ummyeah

    we have handout to help our country not have a high poverty rate, or people out on the streets because those problems escalade into other problems. Its for the greater good of the country, not just those individuals. You think our goverments just came up with welfare for the sake of it, just because it LIKES to give money to those not working? It has a purpose, it just sometimes needs to be enforced on those that abuse it. A lot of people that use it, do not abuse it, and it helps them get their life back together, because having no assistance at all can lead to homelessness which is harder to come out of than just being poor. Its about keeping balance in our country. I would rather my taxes go to helping some people (even if some abuse) than live in a country with a high poverty rate, can we say more taxes for jails?

    May 12, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  9. blessed

    The majority of the current crop of Republican politicians seems only concerned with making the wealthy more wealthy. After all, Republican budget guru Paul Ryan is an Ayn Rand enthusiast.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  10. Gusie

    May I reecommend excommication for the gracious speaker? Or better yet, we can burn him at the stake. If any deserves burning at the stake, it's Johnny Boy. Hand me the lighter.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  11. dc

    This could be interesting...to watch a GOP hardhead grovel at the feet of Catholic University leaders while trying to avoid even the appearance of going against Catholic doctrine and practice. It would be easier had the hardhead not made so many unsubstantiated statements ovedr the past couple of years to slam liberals. I don't have a dog in the fight and am a fairly conservative person myself.

    It is just very interesting to see how a politician will do or say anything to get something he wants and then not know what to say or do to put himself at a distance when the reocrd doesn't match the statements. He is way too much like Mitch McConnell - shoot off mouth, hear from some higher-up that the statement was wrong and needs to be tweaked, back pedal and hope no one notices, and then try to ultimately justify his original position by saying he was misquoted. This hardheaded, Obama-hating individual (in the same school as Give-Obama-Only-One-Term McConnell) is going to have some explaining to do - either to those now watching his every smirk or to his church to which he gives near-absolute authority in his life.

    One or the other is going to bite the dust. My guess is he will pull a Pontius Pilate and try to wash his hands with some idiotic statement, but this is one time that somebody will hold his tongue to the fire because he fired off one of his and McConnell's one-liner GOP hate lines and now the chickens are coming home to roost.

    Don't know about political chickens so much, but in Kentucky - McConnell is about to learn - when chickens roost, they crap all over the ground beneath them. And since everything and everybody are "beneath" Boehner and McConnell, somebody is going to get pooped on!!!! Stay tuned. Either the Pope will win or Boehner will get his tongue seared and have to pay untold dollars into the treasury of the diocese to make penance for his efforts at garnering more GOP tutelage and admiration from the ranks. He's in the proverbial pickle!!!

    May 12, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  12. D

    I will never understand why anyone who is poor votes Republican..yet...many do.

    Literally makes no sense.

    Really shows how easy people are to confuse.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  13. John

    The Catholic church is now sactioning theft. Well, being Catholic that isn't a surprise. Forcing someone to give money to the poor through taxes is theft. Convincing someone to hand you money so you can help the poor is called charity. Maybe the Cotholic church should spend more time working through their charities to help the poor. Jesus never told anyone to take money from someone else to give to the poor. He did preach to give the money you had to the poor to help them out. If the Government keeps spending money they don't have on programs that only help a select few what will will all do when we are all poor and looking to a government that can't borrow any more? If we mandate that we take from the rich to give to the poor, guess what anyone making over $25,000 will be giving up money, because that is the average income of americans. So, ask your self, are you willing to only get $25,000 dollars a year for what you do, and give the rest away. If you can answer yes good for you. Otherwise, stop telling the government to keep giving money to the poor. The government should only be spending money on items that benefit all americans, defense, roads, food inspection, etc.. It should not be spending money that only helps one person. Remember, ask what you can do for your country, not what your country can do for you.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • bgeasyas123

      A little over zealous are we??

      May 12, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Publius Novus

      John: I was baptized Roman Catholic. Because I cannot subscribe to RC doctrine as a whole, I am now an Episcopalian. It has always been my understanding that the Pope does not sanction a cafeteria plan where you can take what you like and disregard the rest. You should pray about your position and consider whether you should be indulging yourself in the communion of the saints.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Faith

      I am not surprise of the comments. Some people making their comments to me are selfish. Some people are not able to work; not everyone is fortunate to be successful. We are to help one another regardless. Why shouldn't there be government assistance for the poor? Pay forward is a wonderful thing. I am thankful to have a job. I am grateful to help someone. I am supportive of any person and/or government that's willing to help the ones in need. Obviously you do not know God's Word. No one knows the future of the next generation (things may not be like they are now) and We as a People must take care of today. My income is $30,000 a yr and I have been in the grocery store and paid the bill for someone who had not enough money for food. Instead of that person having to choose what to keep and what to put back...my heart and the Will of God would not allow me not to help; I've paid car payment, utilities bill, given money for gas, lunch, etc. And it makes me feel great that I have helped someone or several people today. In the world you must have a heart to do what's good and what's right because if you didn't you would be a SELFISH PERSON just like you. And that I am not and my life is good. Thank God.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Togoiii

      John, this is not really coming from the Catholic Church. If you read the signatures, it is primarily coming from various administrative or teaching types in Catholic universities or are otherwise benefited from tax dollars. These folks are typically quite at odds with the Church itself. In fact, the vast majority of Catholic universities do not, in writing, maintain loyalty or a commimmtmentto the Church itself or its teaching. Frankly, this is the left wing of those who call themselves Catholics.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Pete

      Stop being a drama queen. The deficit does need to be addressed and cuts will need to be made. The church is just trying to affirm their belief, which is shared by most Christians, that a fundamental societal concern for the poor is a foundation of the teachings of JC. You cant mention jesus this or jesus that in every conservative argument, then slash funding for the poor and then give tax cuts to the wealthy. Its just a "keeping them honest" moment for all people that call themselves christians.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Tony

      "If we mandate that we take from the rich to give to the poor, guess what anyone making over $25,000 will be giving up money, because that is the average income of americans. So, ask your self, are you willing to only get $25,000 dollars a year for what you do, and give the rest away. " This is a ridiculous statement. No one on either side of this issue is proposing any such thing. What about insisting that billionairs who get rich exporting jobs to China have to pay some taxes to maintain our civilization? That is the real issue, not your drivel.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Michael

      So feeding poor children (whose parents may or may not be hard-working and responsible) is theft?
      What do you call it when the same small group of individuals owns all the means of production and controls all the resources and sets prices so that half the population (most of whom are hard-working and responsible) can barely afford to keep the electricity on and food on the table, let alone get medical attention when they are sick or injured?
      I call that REAL theft, and big theft to boot.
      Your kind disgust me.

      May 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  14. stevie68a

    There is nothing more dangerous now than the republican party. It's been taken over by the right wing lunatics, who will drive
    this country into the ground. They are most adept at having people vote against their own interests. They'll give the people
    religion, yet vote to hold down the minimum wage. Fortunately, there is a Rainbow, and I hope that not only President Obama
    wins reelection, but also will be by a landslide.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  15. Bible Analyst

    Christians should stay out of politics. Jesus said his followers were "no part of this world" just as his kingdom is "no part of this world". He was specifically talking about politics.

    "Kingdom" = "Government".

    Nice an-alysis and equation. No wonder you excelled in recess and Flag Ceremony during grade school.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Tony

      Does that include people who worship money and power? Are they the only ones who should participate in politics?

      May 12, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  16. jon

    Republicans are only for the rich – can't you get that simple fact through your thick skulls? Are you rich? I guess not.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • D

      I will never understand why poor people vote Republican.

      Makes absolutely zero sense.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  17. Mike

    Nowhere in the Bible does it say you should force your christian beliefs on gay marriage and abortion through government.

    The same weak argument from conservatives against helping the poor through government can be used against them on other issues. It is WEAK.

    If you're a christian and a follower of Jesus you should be helping the poor, sick, homeless, etc through PUBLIC and PRIVATE efforts.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • bandgeek1

      Not all denominations oppose gay marriage or any of the other things you mentioned. I'm Presbyterian and my church just took the step os saying that our churches could ordain gays and lesbians. P.O.'ed some but I for one think it is long overdue.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  18. Spanish Inquisition

    We all know that looking out for the poor, the humbled, is way too socialist. That's probably why Boehner is not participating. It does not earn him anything.

    But indeed, Christians (not just catholics) supposed to be looking out for all people. It's called being social, making sure your neighbor is ok, regardless of their faith. And I bet the Muslims are taught the same thing, spread peace, prosperity and love among yourselves and your neighbors.

    One other thing, why do pastors and ministers etc always have to drive the most luxurious cars, dress like they're some important people ? They are supposed to be the wise to help the community, not show as if they're above the community.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • bgeasyas123

      Not sure what church's you've been attending....mega-churches maybe??

      May 12, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Publius Novus

      My priest drives a little old white Honda.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  19. Donald

    This is one thing he will not shed a tear for. They dont send enough money for his relection for him to care.

    May 12, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  20. alec

    Welfare, medicaid and all the other freebies are the worst thing to happen to this country. It has created multigenerational freebie addicts who have no intention of ever working or doing anything but taking. The abuses are mind boggling

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

      Nope. Research shows that people tend to use assistance programs for about 1.5 years before they are able to get back on their own feet. The overwhelming majority of those who receive assistance don't need it again for at least ten years (the length of the longest study conducted with good research methods) once they are able to to provide for themselves.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Cranston

      @Frederick - That's complete fertilizer. Cite your sources.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Fredrick

      Karger & Stoetz, 2010

      May 12, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Fredrick

      Kraft & Furlong, 2008

      May 12, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Spyder

      Yeah..., I hear ya. Let's kill 'em all!! The poor are nothing but trash anyway. Let's keep those rich people thriving. You're a moron.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Gavin

      @Cranston. What is "fertilizer" is telling Frederick to cite his sources while not requireing the same from Alec. It shows a blatant hypocrisy endemic among the hopelessly ideological

      May 12, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Andrew

      The abuses by the top tier, "off the table" by Boehner is where the real majority and manipulation of power is doing the most damage to the lower class's interests, moving jobs overseas, inflating property values, destroying social programs. You've got it upside down. The bottom feeders are on top.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • BR

      @Frederick – How dare you have supporting evidence at the ready! Don't you know that bald assertion and inciting rhetoric need not be concerned with evidence? 😉

      May 12, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Knucklehead

      Go Frederick. Alec learned his facts from Rush Limbaugh. Without welfare, etc., his buddy Clarence Thomas would be sacking groceries somewhere. Then again, maybe he has a point....

      May 12, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Fredrick

      Well I do teach policy to masters students so it isn't that hard to find a few sources.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • helen

      That is such a stupid remark – I was a single mom and had no choice but to be on food stamps, and take what help I could get while looking for a job. guess what, found one, and after 1 month stopped taking them. Hope you never had to watch your child want food and can't afford to buy. Don't look down on something you can not understand until you have been there.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Tony

      Really? How about all of the corporate billionaire piggys who dont have to pay income tax. They are the real welfare recipients. I know your old saw. You are thinking "Poor people don't create jobs, rich people do. " Right, except they create them in China, which creates unemployment and a dependency on government here. I hope you don't consider yourself a patriot since you care nothing for your countrymen.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Leo

      Careful, Frederick. Don't try to confuse these people with facts.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • terry

      My mother raised five boys with the help of government aid. None of my brothers use government aid and we all pay taxes. There are some people who will take advantage of this system but not all. This is the same way the rich get out of paying taxes; they take advantage of the system.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Moby, Detroit, MI

      So what is your proposal?

      May 12, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Harold Anderson

      I think you need to be more concerned about the top 10 percent of this country that get write offs galore and send jobs overseas. Why do you think the poor need freebies in the first place. It is human nature to want to make a positive contribution to society. If you give the poor opotunities they will be productive members of society. If you push them down and send ther jobs overseas they will need freebies.

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

      Alec, I cannot even comment on this because you are so dead on, it makes my blood boil. I cannot believe the number of people on Medicaid who have absolutely no desire to ever get a job or pay for their insurance. A recent experience has given me the unfortunate chance to get a dose of reality. Not only do they have zero desire to get a job, they "create" issues and illnesses to keep them from the work force.

      May 12, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Middle class republicans are like chickens dining at KFC...

      You speak the truth alec... as far as your stupid as5 is concerned, that is. What are you doing on cnn? Isn't cnn a contributor to these "freebie" programs? After all, they report the liberally biased news, or as the rest of the world considers it, REALITY! friggin moron.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Sanjosemike

      Actually, Fredrick's sources differ from another academic source, which shows that for "high-risk" females, welfare DOES become a trap. Here's my source:

      Time on Welfare: Why Do People Enter and Leave the System?
      Peter J. Leahy, Terry F. Buss and James M. Quane
      The American Journal of Economics and Sociology
      Vol. 54, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp. 33-46
      (article consists of 14 pages)

      May 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Middle class republicans are like chickens dining at KFC...

      sanjose, your sources are actually at least 15 years old, by the way... though nothing may have changed since then, just a point you may want to consider in the future.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Fredrick

      @Sanjosemike

      There are a small sub-group of people that do stay on public assistance long term. One trait that most of them share is that they are current or former victims of domestic violence. I was addressing the stereotype that a large portion of people receiving public assistance do so for life.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • myklds

      @Gavin..While vehemently disagree with alec, let me answer your question to Cranston. Perhaps it's because Frederick, unlike alec, got his idea from research not by mere opinion.

      @alec..I think what you and Boehner failed to realise was, "welfare programs and medicaid" was taken from unemployment tax and premiums paid by employed individuals.

      Individuals who are now using welfare food stamps and medicaid were employed in the past or might be employed in the future. Or, they have their parents, husbands or wives who are or have been employed and pays those taxes. Hence, technically, welfare and medicaids are not freebies.

      Should welfare programs and medicaids budget be cut, unemployment tax and premiums must follow through or alternately and proportionally reduced. Otherwise, self-serving politicians who proposed or support such elitist bill, don't deserve a single vote from his consti-tuents.

      May 12, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
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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.