It’s not often that a conservative Catholic speaker at Catholic commencement comes in for criticism from Catholics — but that’s exactly what has happened to the Speaker of the House.
From the New York Times:
House Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican who grew up in a devout Roman Catholic family in Ohio, is scheduled to give the commencement address this Saturday at the Catholic University of America in Washington, a prestigious venue in church circles for its affiliation with the nation’s bishops.
But now Mr. Boehner is coming in for a dose of the same kind of harsh criticism previously leveled at some Democrats — including President Obama — who have been honored by Catholic universities: the accusation that his policies violate basic teachings of the Catholic church.
More than 75 professors at Catholic University and other prominent Catholic colleges have written a pointed letter to Mr. Boehner saying that the Republican-supported budget he shepherded through the House of Representatives will hurt the poor, elderly and vulnerable, and therefore he has failed to uphold basic Catholic moral teaching.
“Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings,” the letter says. “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 letter writers go on to criticize Mr. Boehner’s support for a budget that cut support for Medicare, Medicaid and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, while granting tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations. They call such policies “anti-life,” a particularly biting reference because the phrase is usually applied to politicians and others who support the right to abortion.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, responded by e-mail: “The Speaker will be delivering a personal, non-political message at the Catholic University of America that he hopes will speak to all members of the graduating class, regardless of their backgrounds or affiliations. He is deeply honored to have been invited by CUA to address the school’s graduating class, and is looking forward to receiving an honorary degree from the only Catholic college in our country that is chartered by Catholic bishops.”
UPDATE: AMERICA’s Karen Sue Smith has this analysis:
Two things make this letter stand out. First, it appears to be a form of peer ministry or something close to it, and in structure it reads like a New Testament letter, at least the admonishment portion. The letter even ends with a prayer. Mostly lay Catholic professors, after all (with a few clergy among them, including Jesuits) are here admonishing a fellow Catholic leader to abide by Catholic social teaching.
The second thing that makes this letter distinctive is that the bedrock teaching these signers hold up does not concern abortion, but care for the poor. Who, in this age of cutbacks, is sticking up for the poor?
Last, while the signers do allude to teachings of the pope and of the U.S. Catholic bishops, they themselves wield no authority and make no threats. Yet with what one could call a “pastoral letter” they do intend to instruct, convince and influence the Speaker’s conduct as a Catholic leader–a peer or colleague with a lay vocation in this world.