Catholic professors challenge Boehner

I wrote the other day about conservative Catholic politicians whose views are at odds with church teachings, and asked if church leaders would offer guidance and instruction like they often do to liberal Catholic lawmakers. A high-profile example may be emerging with a letter drafted and signed by Catholic university professors to Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, who is set to give the commencement address at the Catholic University of America. The New York Times reports:

More than 75 professors at Catholic University and other prominent Catholic colleges have written a pointed letter to Mr. Boehner saying that the Republican-supported budget he shepherded through the House of Representatives will hurt the poor, elderly and vulnerable, and therefore he has failed to uphold basic Catholic moral teaching.

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“Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings,” the letter says. “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 letter writers go on to criticize Mr. Boehner’s support for a budget that cut support for Medicare, Medicaid and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, while granting tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations. They call such policies “anti-life,” a particularly biting reference because the phrase is usually applied to politicians and others who support the right to abortion.

The signatories note that they are reflecting the views of US bishops who published a piece criticizing elements of certain budget proposals that would drastically reduce aid to the poor while leaving military and defense spending nearly untouched.

Read the full article here.

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PJ Johnston
7 years 2 months ago
Catholic university professors have generally spent at least a decade studying the theological tradition in a professional, academic course of study and they were proficient and persistent enough to receive a doctorate - and that is before they began their professional careers, which in the case of most of the signatories of that letter has been decades long.  In other words, they have the same claim to competence about what the Catholic tradition teaches as a J.D. instructing law students has over the legal tradition or an M.D. teaching interns in medical school has over medicine.  They are the people with the greatest degree of professional specialization and knowledge about their subject matter.
Frank Gibbons
7 years 2 months ago
Juan Lino Lopez,

You make an excellent point.  Our Catholic professors need to speak the truth to power even when it goes against the prevailing protocols of the left. 
7 years 2 months ago
It would have been nice for them to send a congratulatory letter to him for single-handedly saving a scholarship program for poor black kids in DC which was being scrapped by Democrats (at the bidding of the teachers' unions), but I guess that doesn't make the cut of what constitutes "social justice" in their view.
JOHN SULLIVAN
7 years 2 months ago
This underscores the the meaning of Church for me. I am heartened by this letter from the professors because it speaks truth to power. This is certainly an example that Michael Leach could have included in "Why Stay Catholic". By the way, I congratulate Mr. Boehner for savinf the scholarship program in DC that Mr. Landry alluded to.
Daniel Horan
7 years 2 months ago
I'm pleased to see critical engagement with the Catholic moral and theological tradition beyond perpetuating the fallacy that American Catholics are supposed to be a "single-issue demographic." There is much more to the Catholic moral tradition than abortion and it's about time to broaden that discussion. Beyond the budgetary critique, might Catholics raise concerns about Rep. Boehner's leadership in a party that oftentimes espouses views of war and torture that are also in conflict with Catholic teaching? 

http://datinggod.org/2011/05/11/catholic-scholars-challenge-rep-john-boehner-on-church-teaching-before-cua-commencement/ 
Marie Rehbein
7 years 2 months ago
One problem with expecting government to carry out the ancient teaching of Jesus and the apostles is that doing so deprives individuals of their exercise of free will.  It would seem that the implication of being told that the poor we will always have with us is that we are to be personally challenged each day to choose to do God's will and not try to come up with a way that eliminates the poor, either by making them all rich with handouts or by not letting them be born if they are likely to add to the ranks of the poor.

On the other hand, there is a lot a government can do to raise the standard of living for all its citizens so that the even the poorest among us are doing better than they would without government help.  The problem, always, is that all the good intentions behind government programs are matched by the greed and schemes of those who do not see goverment as their fellow citizens reaching out, but instead as an inhuman entity that can be exploited and cheated.

In other words, the reasoning behind some Republican positions is understandable.  However, w?hen Republicans try to balance the budget by not nourishing the bodies and not nurturing the minds of the children of the poor, they impoverish the whole of society no matter that they are or are not in some way seeing themsleves as carrying out the will of God. ? ??C?o??m?m?o?n? ?s?e?n?s?e? ?w?o?u?l?d? ?m?a?k?e? ?i?t? ?c?l?e?a?r? ?t?h?a?t? ?t?h?i?s? ?i?s? ???p?e?n?n?y?-??w?i?s?e? ?a?n?d? ?p??o?u?n?d? ?f?o?o?l?i?s?h?.  
7 years 2 months ago
Medicaire and Medicaid have been around for a mere 50 years in our country's official230 year history.  How did the country get along without them in the previous 180+ years?  Churches, charities, family, friends. 

Why good Christian people want to delegate their moral responsibilities towards their fellow citizens to a secular government is puzzling.  Is it a matter of making sure that those who wouldn't otherwise contribute are forced to contribute via taxes?  Doesn't sound very Christian to me.
Vince Killoran
7 years 2 months ago
"Scholarship program"-that's a good one: it's a voucher program and it is an attack on our public school system.  Want to improve public education?  Get involved with local schools and teachers' unions.  Notwithstanding the misinformation peddled in WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, most teacher's unions are sensititve to reform but have been shut down by administrators and politicians who want to call all the shots.


The short response to Michael is that lots of people went through life with poor dental care, dietary deficiencies, etc.  They died young. In our modern, complex society the communal, idyllic care ethos that you envision couldn't exist, at least not without government support. No one is stopping you from caring for family and other loved ones at home-Medicare/caid encourage that kind of thing.

As for the "secular government" cut, well, I happen to take my responsibilites as a citizen seriously-unlike Ronald Reagan I don't think that "government is part of the problem."
Tom Maher
7 years 2 months ago
It is not an established fact that conservative Catholic citizens and politicians are at odd with teh Catholic church but especially on the say-so by a group of self-appointed Catholic university professors.  SInce when does collections of Catholic university professor have any standing to monitior and pass judegement on what other Catholics think and do in politics and government?  
7 years 2 months ago
"Notwithstanding the misinformation peddled in WAITING FOR SUPERMAN, most teacher's unions are sensititve to reform but have been shut down by administrators and politicians who want to call all the shots."

Yeah, cause the guy that produced Al Gore's documentary is a notorious right-wing propagandist!  And it appears Joel Klien is another closet right-wing foot soldies in this so-called "attack" on public schools.  And don't let me forget that hotbed right wing rag the New Yorker peddling the "attack's" propaganda what with detailing rubber rooms!  My God, there IS a vast right wing conspiracy, and in the unlikliest of places! 

If you think we'll reform the pubilc education system by giving yet MORE power to the teachers unions, I've got a beach-front property in Arizona you might be interested in. 
7 years 2 months ago
And it can only be described as Kafkesque to label as "an attack on our public school system" a program to give poor black & Latino kids a VOLUNTARY CHOICE (yes, they don't have to take the money) to escape a failing public school in favor of a school that may increase their chance of graduating and attending college.  If "social justice" requires me to hue to the talking points of the teachers' unions and deny poor black kids (and Latino kids) such an opportunity, then I say social justice has been rendered meaningless.

But hey, I think you're a self-avowed Socialist, so you're probably comfortable with Kafkesque outcomes.
Vince Killoran
7 years 2 months ago
Supporting public schools is not Kafkesque. Please use that label accurately. You're always in attack dog mode with fellow bloggers

As for "school reformers" they come in all political stripes. I am well aware that many Democratic party moderates-especially those in finance & public policy (the elite)-are big backers of vouchers and attacking teachers' unions. 

Why are some of my fellow bloggers so quick to attack this letter?  Why not mull it over?  Maybe these professors raise some good points.
PJ Johnston
7 years 2 months ago
To the editors:

Sorry about the accidental duplicate posts (here and in a couple of other places).  I don't know what is causing this to happen.

Jeff Landry:

The early Church was socialist (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32), in addition to being anarcho-pacifist.
7 years 2 months ago
"You're always in attack dog mode with fellow bloggers"

I think its called "dialogue", Vince.  "Attack mode" is what people who think giving choices to poor kids about their education call "assaults on public education".
7 years 2 months ago
"The early Church was socialist (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32), in addition to being anarcho-pacifist."

It was also hierarchical; but that doesn't seem to carry much weight with most.
Helena Loflin
7 years 2 months ago
Good to know that even John Boehner can do one decent thing to help the disadvantaged.

Vouchers are a Republican means to an end...the end of U.S. public schools.
Vince Killoran
7 years 2 months ago
I suppose a bar room brawl is "dialogue" too but that's not what we're supposed to be doing here.  Why not address someone's comments on the actual points being made and avoid taking their political (or sexual or religious etc.) identity as the target?  It makes for a weak response and is distracting.  Maybe that's your strategy. . . ?

I would argue that school vouchers do not, in the long run, offer much "choice" for most poor children and damages our public education system. It is a system for all of us-it serves the citizenry in many ways and should not be narrowed to a single objective (a bit like our pulic university system).


BTW, how can something be anarco-pacifist and hierarchical?
7 years 2 months ago
"Vouchers are a Republican means to an end...the end of U.S. public schools."

If it is, its not the Republican's fault.  People vote with their feet...and dollars.

It was true of East Germany; it would be true of public schools as well.

Vince, I'm confident I did respond to your "actual points", such as they were.  No one's identity is a target for me other than how it explains your support for keeping disadvantaged kids locked in a system that we know will lead most of them to drop out (at best) and various social dysfunctions (at worst).
7 years 2 months ago
And I find it a bit cheeky to state that I'm not responding to actual points, when I didn't see you supply evidence as to why the reams of evidence presented in Waiting for Superman (or Joel Klein's recent pieces. OR the New Yorker's piece) are invalid.  You just dismissed them as so much "misrepresentation".  Again, I remain mystified that a program that empowers POOR FAMILIES to choose (voluntary, freely, without coercion) which school their child can attend amounts to an "attack" on anything. 
Tom Maher
7 years 2 months ago
The self-appointed  Catholic university letter writers lack of awarness over the United States' national debt crisis and it impacts on our economy.  They fail to deal with the critical facts about our economy such as the real possibility that United States could be deverly impacted and fiancially limited by its hugh national debt.

Greece, Ireland and Portugal have recently been severly economically impacted due to their high level of national debt.  All government services wagesa and pensions were cut back across the board.  

The International Monetary Fund,a worldwide organization that monitors all nations fiscal and monetary accounts, observed in its April 2011
semi-annual report "Fiscal Monitor" that the United States did not have a credible plan to control and manage its hugh and very rapidly growing national debt.  The IMF "Ficsal Monitor" report further states that this level of debt and its rapid yearly growth is unsustainable.  THe national debt to Gross Domestic Product is approaching 100%, a dangerously high level of indebtedness.  Nationas such as Greece, Ireland and now Portugal with high debt to GDP ratios have been unable to continue to finance themselves and had to be bailed out and forced to impose drastically cut back all governemnt services programs and expenditures inclduing pensions and government employee salaries.

So it turn out as it always does that the moral picture painted by moralizers such as Catholic university professor does not represent all the critical technical facts need to made a fair and reasonable assessment of the urgent United States' governemnt need to establish a cretible budgetary to control the growth of our national debt.

Rather the Catholic college professor without technical knowldege or facts make extreme moral judgements proclaining with certainty and absolute terms condemnation on perfectly decent people of goodwill and ability such as John Boehner, the Speaker of the House.  They would do well to give him a chance to speak and llisten to what he has to say.  They would learn alot that they do not know.
ROBERT HARRIGAN MRS
7 years 2 months ago
It is very dissapointing to see the comments section become a place where several individuals, often the same ones, snip at each other's comments and seem to continue a long-standing argument among themselves that appears to be ideologically based; it would be much more helpful to this reader if the topic itself was discussed and those who are not 'insiders' could learn something. I for one, dare not comment, least my small contribution be dismissed out of hand.     
PJ Johnston
7 years 2 months ago
Re: hierarchical anarcho-pacifism

I nowhere denied the early church had a hierarchy.  As I said, the anarchism of the early Church was anarcho-pacifism - a rejection of Christians serving in the government or military because both implied formal cooperation in the use of violent police powers, when Christ's teaching rules out any and all uses of violence.  Non-violent hierarchies within voluntary associations such as the Church obviously pose no moral problems for anarcho-pacifism.

Tom Maher:

See comment 7. on "Boehner and the Poor"

Vince Killoran
7 years 2 months ago
http://www.thenation.com/article/154986/grading-waiting-superman
Juan Lino
7 years 2 months ago
A link to the actual letter can be found here:
http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=16977
7 years 2 months ago
Your point is well taken, Tricia.

But I submit that the Speaker's role in saving the DC Scholarship program (not to mention his overall cooperation on education policy with folks like Teddy Kennedy, Arne Duncan, and Pres. Obama) IS relevant to the criticisms being levelled against him in the letter.  If the letter writers had bothered to mention (thank?) him for such action, then it would come off to me as a more sincere invitation to dialogue rather than simply caricaturing his record as "anti-poor".
Juan Lino
7 years 2 months ago
I think it would be very interesting to discuss the letter in light of what’s written in CARITAS IN VERITATE and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. 

I’d also be more impressed if those that signed the letter also wrote a similar letter to those politicians who fail to support the right to life of the poorest of the poor – the unborn.
Helen Smith
7 years 2 months ago
RE comment by Michael Brooks
"Medicaire and Medicaid have been around for a mere 50 years in our country's official230 year history.  How did the country get along without them in the previous 180+ years?  Churches, charities, family, friends."

Medicare was needed because insurance companies would not insure those over 65 and the disabled!

Are you saying that Churches, charities, family, friends should or would have be able to given that knd of support?

Helen Smith
7 years 2 months ago
Why do we expect that Speaker Boehner be motivated by his Catholic faith? He's a Republican politician and is following the party line.

I have more problems with Representatve Ryan, who posts on his website that he is a member of St. John Vianney Church and says that he was motivated to go into public service by Ayn Rand.

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