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Ivory Tower Catholics beat up on House Speaker Boehner

He's set to give the commencement speech at Catholic University of America in DC and some see it as an opportunity to question the man's commitment to Catholic teaching:

CUA Cathedral.jpgA group of Catholic academics assailed House Speaker John Boehner yesterday for backing a budget plan that is "particularly cruel to pregnant women and children" while dramatically revising the federal health programs of Medicare and Medicaid.

In a letter to the Republican from southwestern Ohio, more than 70 Catholic university professors, priests and nuns from across the country charged that the House Republicans' 2012 budget proposal "guts long-established protections for the most-vulnerable members of society."

They also asserted that Boehner's long voting record in the House "is at variance from one of the Church's most-ancient moral teachings": to help the poor. They wrote that "your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress."

The sharply worded letter is one of the most-intense attacks on Boehner for his effort to slash federal budgets to reduce the deficit. Boehner is a Catholic from the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester.

CUA alumni Fr. Robert A. Sirico gives a substantive rebuttal:

The authors, who are drawn from multiple disciplines outside moral theology and include academics from architecture, media, social work, theatre, and dance departments from across the United States, say that the speaker's voting record "is at variance from one of the Church's most ancient moral teachings."

Now what could that be? The Church's teaching that marriage consists of one man and one woman for life? The Church's insistence upon the need to legally protect unborn human life? Probably not, because Speaker Boehner has, from an orthodox Catholic standpoint, an excellent record on those questions, especially compared to his predecessor.

They go on: "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."

They are correct on this. The problem, from the point of view of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, is their next judgment: "Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress."

To jump so seamlessly from the Magisterium's insistence on the fundamental and non-negotiable moral obligation to the poor to the specifics of contingent, prudential, and political legislation is wholly unjustified in Catholic social teaching. One suspects that the moral theologians who signed this letter know that. It would be good for them to say so.

Surely they know what the American Bishops stated in their own 1986 Pastoral Letter, "Economic Justice for All" : "There are also many specific points on which men and women of good will may disagree. We look for a fruitful exchange among differing viewpoints."

Surely they recall the statement of Blessed John XXIII in Mater et Magistra that, "When it comes to reducing these teachings to action, it sometimes happens that even sincere Catholic men have differing views. When this occurs, they should take care to have and to show mutual esteem and regard, and to explore the extent to which they can work in cooperation among themselves." (no. 238)

And then there is that passage in Pope Benedict's most recent social encyclical Caritas in Veritate: "The Church does not have technical solutions to offer." (no. 9)

It appears then that these Catholic academicians who have written to Speaker Boehner do not understand the distinctions the Church herself makes between fundamental, non-negotiable dogmas and doctrines, and the prudential and debatable give and take when it comes to applying the principles of Catholic social teaching. Here Speaker Boehner need only consult the text of the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, which the authors of the letter say they have delivered to him, wherein he will read: "The Church's Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions." (no. 571)

The specifics of the 2012 Budget proposed by the Speaker and his colleagues are, the letter's authors contend, the result of either ignorance or "dissent."  I think they are neither; they simply reflect a different, and in many people's estimation, more accurate and economically-informed way, of proposing how we achieve worthy goals. Indeed, it could be said that what these Catholic academicians are proposing is not a "preferential option for the poor," but rather a preferential option for the State. They make the unfortunately common error of assuming that concern for the economically weak and marginalized must somehow translate into (yet another) government program.

That assumption is wrong, and flies in the face of another principle of Catholic social teaching -- the principle of subsidarity. With good reason, this is something the Catholic Left -- or whatever remains of it these days -- rarely mentions or grapples with, because they know that it would raise many questions about the prudence of any number of welfare programs they support.

Fr. Sirico goes on to paint the letter as reactionary and tiring and laments the clinging by progressives to broken models from the past.

Good stuff.

Boehner should look to Fr. Sirico for moral guidance and spiritual advice as he attempts to slow Obama and his minions as they push those broken models on the rest of us.


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Comments (15)

These theologians are so fa... (Below threshold)

These theologians are so far from Christianity, I being to wander if they can even be called Christian anymore.

No where in the Bible does it teach that the government should help the poor. Time and time again it teaches that the Christian should help the poor, individually or as a group. VOLUNTARILY, because of their love for

The Church has abdicated her responsible for caring for the poor to the governemnt, and instead is using its resources to glorify itself.

It is okay for the clery of... (Below threshold)

It is okay for the clery of any faith to preach about charity etc. to people to be mindful of the less fortune...HOWEVER, if they are preaching that we should be giving more to the government so the government can be more "chariable" they maybe they should loose their tax exempt status...and give too!
Sick of people telling me how to live and want to give. All mouth and no brains.

I agree. An excellent rebut... (Below threshold)

I agree. An excellent rebuttal by Father Sirico.

Did this group write a simi... (Below threshold)

Did this group write a similar letter to Nancy Pelosi condemning her support of abortion rights?

I stopped considering the U... (Below threshold)

I stopped considering the US CC any source of moral authority when it finally was revealed (by their deeds and despite repeated cover-ups) that the only extra-marital sex the CC condoned was between priests and the most vulnerable members of their congregations. The "rare rogue priest" and "humans are flawed" arguments never passed the scorn test because senior CC clergy not only failed to ensure justice at the time, but even (repeatedly!) re-assigned their pious predators to fresh innocents.

The foundation of Catholic ... (Below threshold)

The foundation of Catholic theology is either the teachings of Jesus or the teachings of the Fathers. It must be one or the other, since the two groups of instruction differ quite radically.
Jesus taught that the leader should be servant of all. The fathers taught that the leader should be elevated above the common person.
As for charity: Jesus taught that charity was expected of individuals. At no time did Jesus call on states to exercise charity. You could look it up. The Samaritan was not an agent of a state; he was an individual.
When the disciples, after Pentecost, gathered together, they did not have their assets confiscated by the state for re-distribution; they appointed deacons from their own number to accept the freely-offered gifts.
Too bad that these "theologians" cannot distinguish between worship of a state and following Jesus.
Their bad.

Does "one of the Church's m... (Below threshold)

Does "one of the Church's most-ancient moral teachings" have anything to do with leaving the altar boys alone.

I'll accept moral teachings from the Catholic Church when all the Priests who molested children in their charge are in jail. And the Bishops who covered up for them and moved them around from parish to parish are facing RICO charges. Talk to me then. Not before.

Like I put a lot of creeden... (Below threshold)

Like I put a lot of creedence in what a bunch of pervs that butt fuck little boys opine.

I agree that being lectured... (Below threshold)

I agree that being lectured by Catholic theologians and priests on "hurting children" is obscene. We know their stand on helping the children.

How about they say "instead of tithing 10% to your church, consider your taxes as your tithe". They want the best of both worlds. ww

"I'll accept moral teaching... (Below threshold)

"I'll accept moral teachings from the Catholic Church when all the Priests who molested children in their charge are in jail. And the Bishops who covered up for them and moved them around from parish to parish are facing RICO charges. Talk to me then. Not before."

So the conflicting stances of either the Catholic University academics or Father Sirico hold no legitimacy for you because those opposing views both arise from Catholics?

The big problem here is not... (Below threshold)
Big Mo:

The big problem here is not the scandal in the Catholic church, it's the ongoing politicization of the gospel.

Anyone who claims that Jesus advocated something that is in line with today's American politics – whether from the left or the right – is grossly distorting God's message. When Jesus walked the earth, He repeatedly eschewed efforts to make Him the earthly king of Israel to drive off the Romans and Herodians and restore Israel to Davidic glory. Rather, He repeatedly said that He was "about My Father's business," meaning that His purpose was to assume the sins of the world so that those who believed in Him would be saved – and not to delve in to the petty politics of man.

Jesus Christ is not a liberal, Democrat, Republican or a conservative, and lefty promoters of the "social gospel" are but the latest perpetrators attempting to force the gospel of Christ to fit today's political agendas.

Did this group wri... (Below threshold)
Did this group write a similar letter to Nancy Pelosi condemning her support of abortion rights?

Not that I'm aware or. Nor did it write such a letter to Joe Biden, John Kerry, or any of the Kennedys. Nor did it chastise Pelosi when she lied about the church's position on abortion on national television.

Notre Dame did, however, give an honorary degree to Barack Obama in 2009.

So, a violation of some vague redistributionist philosophy warrants action, but support for the killing of unborn children does not.

DaveD -As for the ... (Below threshold)

DaveD -

As for the feuding factions of the CC, I believe Shakespeare's Mercutio said it best.

Notre Dame did, however,... (Below threshold)

Notre Dame did, however, give an honorary degree to Barack Obama in 2009.

So, a violation of some vague redistributionist philosophy warrants action, but support for the killing of unborn children does not.

Iwog, some of those children were actually born.


Of course the dichotomy bet... (Below threshold)
Caesar Augustus:

Of course the dichotomy between Boehner and Pelosi is no accident. Republican Derangement Syndrome is so pervasive in left-wing circles (e.g., university campuses) it transcends religion and has become a form of religion in and of itself.






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