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May 11, 2011 6:00 PM John Boehner’s Catholic Problem

By Daniel Luzer

Michael O’Hare’s blog post over at the Ten Miles Square blog brought this to my attention. A very interesting thing is going on in Washington.

This weekend John Boehner, a practicing Catholic and 1977 graduate of the Jesuit Xavier University, will give the commencement address at Catholic University of America.

In response, more than 75 American Catholic academics, including many from CUA, signed a letter calling attention to Boehner’s policies, which the letter says are at odds with Catholic teaching. The letter, according to an article in the National Catholic Reporter, states that:

Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings. From the apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of 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 2012 budget you shepherded to passage in the House of Representatives guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society. It is particularly cruel to pregnant women and children, gutting Maternal and Child Health grants and slashing $500 million from the highly successful Women Infants and Children nutrition program. When they graduate from WIC at age 5, these children will face a 20% cut in food stamps. The House budget radically cuts Medicaid and effectively ends Medicare. It invokes the deficit to justify visiting such hardship upon the vulnerable, while it carves out $3 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. In a letter speaking on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Stephen Blaire and Bishop Howard Hubbard detailed the anti-life implications of this budget in regard to its impact on poor and vulnerable American citizens.
Mr. Speaker, we urge you to use the occasion of this year’s commencement at The Catholic University of America to give fullest consideration to the teachings of your Church. We call upon you to join with your bishops and sign on to the “Circle of Protection.” It is your moral duty as a legislator to put the needs of the poor and most vulnerable foremost in your considerations. To assist you in this regard, we enclose a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Published by the Vatican, this is the “catechism” for the Church’s ancient and growing teaching on a just society and Catholic obligations in public life.

Note that the professors do not object to Boehner’s presence at graduation ceremonies or call on CUA not to give out the precious honorary doctorate to congressman. No, all of that is fine, but if Boehner’s going to speak at a big prominent Catholic school, well, the Catholics are going to call him out.

We’re Catholics, the signatories point out. You’re Catholic. This is a Catholic institution. And your public behavior is not in line with Catholic teaching.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Eric on May 12, 2011 6:40 PM:

    Boehner's sins are many and serious. I am only surprised that the Catholic Church noticed.

  • smartalek on May 12, 2011 11:45 PM:

    It�s troubled me for decades, not years, that quite a few of the Big Cheeses in the Big Jesus RC Church in America seem to have no problem publicly chastising Democratic officeholders and candidates for their "anti-life" stances (sometimes to the point of refusing them communion in their churches, and sometimes to the point of telling the faithful it would be sinful to vote for such candidates).
    Yet one never (until now) seems to hear any of these Princes of the Church going off on any Publican for the far-more-"anti-life" policies, positions, and acts they routinely undertake. (Or more accurately: are the center and essence of their politics.)
    (And then, of course, in perfect Rovian counterpoint they decry Kerry, Pelosi, and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all as "cafeteria Catholics"!)
    It's not "about time" -- it's decades overdue -- that someone in the Magisterium take a public stand that's actually consistent with a professed "ethic of life."
    Good on 'em -- and Praise the Lord.

  • myth buster on May 13, 2011 12:46 PM:

    Those Catholic academics need to stop asking Caesar to do their job for them. Jesus' command was for the Church to care for the poor, not to pawn that job off on the government. Government has a duty to do equal justice to rich and poor alike, not to dispense charity.

  • JimBeam on May 18, 2011 9:44 AM:

    I am with myth buster on this one. The Catholic Church oversteps its bounds when it starts demanding that Catholic politicians enact certain economic policies. Reasonable Catholics can disagree the best economic policies to help the poor.

    I would also say that the Republican bishops overstep their bounds when they sanction and deny communion to Catholic politicians who do not want to criminalize abortion. The Catholic Church unambiguously teaches that abortion is wrong, but requiring Catholic politicians to follow a specific political agenda on this issue is going too far.

    Criminalizing abortion might make the bishops feel better, but it will not make abortion go away. Prohibition did not end alcohol consumption, nor has the War on Drugs ended drug use. In fact, criminalizing abortion will only push it underground, getting rid of the many regulations and restrictions that currently apply to the procedure. Furthermore, the problems with enforcing such a law would have a serious impact on the doctor patient relationship and on women's health. (Do we really want the state investigating every miscarriage?) As such, reasonable Catholics can disagree on how best to deal with the abortion issue.

  • Eric on May 22, 2011 4:01 PM:

    Academics are lefties at Catholic universities just as much as secular ones. Myths about taxes are abundant and as most lefty academics do not understand taxes, it is not surprising this is the result. The US has the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. And tax cuts are always going to affect those who actually pay taxes, the majority of whom are the middle and upper class.

    Would President Obama or any Democrat coming to speak there be as excoriated for their pro-abortion agenda?