House Speaker John Boehner’s much-anticipated CUA Commencement address was the scene of yet another protest against the impact of House-inspired budget cuts on the poor. According to the Washington Post, about 30 graduate students engaged in a silent protest at the ceremony – wearing signs pinned to their gowns with messages like “Where’s the compassion, Mr. Boehner?”
Boehner made an important point about Catholic education when he observed in his address:
Catholic has prepared you in a way no other institution can. The focus of your development here has been getting you to grapple more with WHO you want to be than WHAT you want to be. You’ve been challenged to think rationally, and to use your heart and your conscience to guide your words and your actions.
The students and faculty who remonstrated with the Speaker illustrated that call and that conscience when they stood up to defend Catholic social teaching regarding the poor and the guidance offered by the Bishops throughout the budget process.
In light of these protests I was hoping that Speaker Boehner would offer his thoughts on Catholic social teaching. How has Catholic social teaching affected him as a politician and policymaker? Does he give any credence to the teachings of the Bishops on the poor? How does he reconcile the political demands of his party and electorate with the demands of his conscience? Alas, he did not explore any of these in his remarks.
The Republican House leadership seems to be hurtling toward a head-on collision with the counsel of the American Bishops, and it is not just Boehner. Paul Ryan, another Catholic and the intellectual author of the Republican budget proposal, has offered cogent explanations about how his thought is consistent with that of atheist libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand. He has not, so far as I know, explained its relationship to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. I have heard multiple Republican elected officials explain in great detail how their social ideas are founded on those of Adam Smith, Milton Friedman or Ronald Reagan – but seldom on those of Thomas Aquinas, Leo XIII, the USCCB, or Benedict XVI. Speaker Boehner missed an important opportunity to explain his beliefs at CUA.