A prominent group of Catholic academics sent an open letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Catholic, before his commencement address at the Catholic University of America in which they said his political actions were at odds with the church's moral teachings.
Speaker of the House John Boehner and Catholic University of America President John Garvey during commencement exercises on May 14. (Photo: Speaker of the House)
"Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church's most ancient moral teachings," read the letter available in the National Catholic Reporter. "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."
The Catholic scholars – many on faculty at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. – said, "The 2012 budget you shepherded to passage in the House of Representatives guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society."
They listed cuts to programs that provide assistance to pregnant women, children, the vulnerable and aged.
Their letter referenced a joint statement by Catholic Bishops Stephen Blaire and Howard Hubbard who "detailed the anti-life implications of this [House] budget in regard to its impact on poor and vulnerable American citizens."
The scholars' letter also spoke favorably about the initiative of other Christian leaders called the "Circle of Protection."
"[W]e urge you ... to give fullest consideration to the teachings of your Church... It is your moral duty as a legislator to put the needs of the poor and most vulnerable foremost in your considerations," read the letter.
Boehner, a Republican, responded on May 12.
"I'm a big believer that in a country like ours those who have the opportunity to succeed and do succeed have a responsibility to help those who can't compete. I've always believed this," said Boehner. "I believe the actions that I've taken in my years in Congress uphold the values of my faith."
After identifying himself as a Catholic, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly said the college professors had missed the point.
"The responsibility of the U.S. government is to protect all its citizens, and a bankruptcy in this country would devastate everyone," said O'Reilly. "All entitlements must be re-evaluated."
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O'Reilly said there were other ways to help the poor and said that his organization had given millions of dollars to charities.
"[T]o attack Speaker Boehner as an unfit Catholic is itself immoral because only God can make that judgment," said O'Reilly, accusing the scholars of "making a blatantly political statement that has little to do with religion."
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, wrote that it was "delightful to learn that all of these professors are now on record expressing fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church."
Donohue called the "pro poor" professors "carping professors [who] are not representative of Catholic sentiment."
He suggested that one signatory was pro-abortion and criticized his support of the health care reform bill.
Donohue addressed neither the content of the letter nor the Catholic Church's teaching on preferential treatment of the poor.
Boehner did not mention the controversy when he gave the commencement address at Catholic University on May 14.
In its coverage of Boehner's address, the Fox News TV station in Washington, D.C., quoted a doctoral graduate, John Barba, who had signed the letter.
"When Jesus teaches, 'Sell all you have and give to the poor,' he's talking about distributive justice," said Barba. "So, to the degree that Speaker Boehner's policies are in contradiction to that teaching, I think that's a question that we need to bring to his attention."