Catholics Take Boehner to Task

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As John Boehner (Catholic-OH) prepares to give the commencement address this weekend at Catholic University, a group of more than 70 Catholic theologians has sent him a tough letter noting that his voting record on economic issues does not match Catholic teaching.

“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,” states the letter signed by Catholic theologians, including several from Boehner’s home state of Ohio. “This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.”

The letter was delivered to the Speaker’s office, along with a copy of a Vatican publication that highlights Church teaching on social justice issues. It comes on the heels of a decision by the U.S. Bishops Conference to enter into the budget debate, calling on the Senate to protect poverty-focused assistance, cut military spending, and consider tax hikes to “rais[e] adequate revenues.”

Notably–and in stark contrast to similar commencement addresses offered by Democratic politicians–Boehner’s critics have not called on Catholic University to rescind the invitation or suggested that Boehner be denied communion because his public role conflicts with Catholic teaching. Indeed, the letter begins by congratulating the Speaker on the honor of his role at the ceremony and the honorary degree he will receive. Instead, the letter-writers intend the commencement to serve as a teaching opportunity to remind Boehner–and perhaps other Catholics–of the Church’s teachings on economic justice.

And they hope to broaden the debate about what it means for a Catholic to be “pro-life.” The letter refers to a budget that includes cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and WIC programs as “anti-life,” a label Republicans like Boehner are unused to hearing applied to them. But some Catholics have been arguing that the Church and lay-Catholics should not consider opposition to abortion the only requirement for claiming a “pro-life” record.

In 2007, the group Catholics United ran radio ads against a dozen Catholic representatives–including Michele Bachmann–calling their opposition to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) “not pro-life.”

Democratic Catholics haven’t forgotten how conservative Catholics targeted former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle during his 2004 re-election campaign (a race he eventually lost) and tarred him as a “bad Catholic” for his support of abortion rights. John Boehner may not be shaking in his boots at the thought of having his economic positions singled out by a bunch of theologians. But he can bet on the fact that some Catholics will keep highlighting the discrepancies between his record and Catholic teaching.