Catholic Scholars Challenge Rep. John Boehner on Church Teaching Before CUA Commencement
A number of Catholic scholars, among them several theologians from The Catholic University of America, have sent a delegation to the office of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), in anticipation of his invited commencement address at CUA. In a press release from Prof. Stephen Schneck, an organizer of this response to the Speaker’s invited address, we are told that the Catholic scholar delegation will “deliver the [following] letter to Speaker Boehner’s office along with a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church – a Vatican publication that highlights centuries of Church teaching on social justice issues.”
The press release, dated May 11, 2011, continues:
When Catholic universities host influential political leaders, they must not simply honor their achievements, but also critique their departures from Catholic teaching,” said Vincent J. Miller, Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton. “This is especially the case with Catholic University, founded by the bishops. Speaker Boehner leads a movement that actively undermines a Catholic vision for government’s vital role in serving the common good. The budget he worked to pass in the House literally takes food from hungry children while enacting massive tax cuts for the wealthy. These actions are antithetical to Catholic doctrine. As he visits Catholic University, where the great Msgr. John Ryan helped lay the moral foundation for New Deal policies that protect the poor and most vulnerable, Speaker Boehner must be reminded of those core teachings of his Catholic faith he is now disregarding.
The full text of the letter (also printed below) includes the full list of signatories, Catholic scholars from CUA as well as other Catholic Colleges and Universities around the United States, such as Fordham University, The University of Dayton, Xavier University and The University of Notre Dame, among others. You can view a PDF of the signed letter here. In addition, one can find notable Catholic leaders like my Franciscan brother, Fr. Joseph Nangle, OFM, and Marie Denis, director of Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.
Here is the full Text:
Dear Mr. Speaker,
We congratulate you on the occasion of your commencement address to The Catholic University of America. It is good for Catholic universities to host and engage the thoughts of powerful public figures, even Catholics such as yourself who fail to recognize (whether out of a lack of awareness or dissent) important aspects of Catholic teaching. We write in the hope that this visit will reawaken your familiarity with the teachings of your Church on matters of faith and morals as they relate to governance.
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. They explained the Church’s teachings in this regard clearly, insisting that:
A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.
Specifically” addressing your budget, the letter expressed grave concern about changes to Medicaid and Medicare that could leave the elderly and poor without adequate health care. The bishops warned further:
We also fear the human and social costs of substantial cuts to programs that serve families working to escape poverty, especially food and nutrition, child development and education, and affordable housing.
Representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishops Hubbard and Blaire have now endorsed with other American Christian leaders a call to legislators for a “Circle of Protection” around programs for the poor that you, Mr. Speaker, have imperiled. The statement of these Christian leaders recognizes the need for fiscal responsibility, “but not at the expense of hungry and poor people.” Indeed, it continues, “These choices are economic, political—and moral. As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called ‘the least of these’ (Matthew 25:45).”
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.
Catholic social doctrine is not merely a set of goals to be achieved by whatever means one chooses. It is also a way of proceeding, a set of principles that are derived from the truth of the human person. In Pope Benedict’s words: “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way… the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.”
We commend to you the Compendium’s discussion of the principles of the common good, the preferential option for the poor, and the interrelationship of subsidiarity and solidarity. Paragraph 355 on tax revenues, solidarity, and support for the vulnerable is particularly relevant to the moment.
Be assured of our prayers for you on this occasion and for your faithful living out of your vocation in public life.
Stephen F. Schneck
Director, Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies
The Catholic University of America