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Catholic professors question Boehner commencement appearance

May 11, 2011

More than 70 professors have signed a public letter challenging an appearance by House Speaker John Boehner as the commencement speaker at Catholic University.

The faculty members—many of them from Catholic University itself—inform Boehner that “your voting record is at variance from (sic) one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings.” They go on to charge that Boehner’s voting record shows a lack of concern for the needs of the poor.

The professors’ statement is reminiscent of the much broader surge of protest roused by the appearance of President Barack Obama as commencement speaker at Notre Dame in 2009. Although the professors do not suggest that the university’s invitation to Boehner should be rescinded, as many protesters argued regarding Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama, in each case the protest centers around the claim that the speaker’s political record is incompatible with Catholic teachings on key moral issues. There are, however, two important differences between the two cases.

  • Unlike President Obama, Speaker Boehner is a Catholic, who can be expected to accept the teachings of the Church. And whereas Notre Dame is a prominent Catholic university, the Catholic University of America is under the special protection of the American bishops, with the Archbishop of Washington as the university’s chancellor.
  • President Obama’s public stance was (and is) at odds with Catholic teaching on a point of fundamental moral teaching, the inherent immorality of deliberately destroying innocent human life. Speaker Boehner, on the other hand, is in conflict with some public statements by some bishops on prudential political judgments, regarding a matter—the care for the poor—on which loyal Catholics can and do differ.

In Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II made it quite clear that the prohibition against deliberately taking innocent life binds the conscience of Catholics in a way that teachings on other question, such as welfare policy, do not. Speaker Boehner has a strong record of support for the right to life.

Writing for the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters tried to make an argument that Boehner’s disagreements with some statements by the US bishops’ conference are particularly egregious:

One of the most striking, and important, points made in the letter is that many of the budget cuts proposed by Boehner are not just opposed to the Church's social teachings but are "anti-life," especially those cuts that are directed at programs to help pregnant women facing crisis pregnancies.

Thus the argument that Boehner’s appearance at Catholic University is similar to Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame relies on the preposterous suggestion that cutting taxpayer support for welfare programs is as morally offensive as forcing taxpayer support for the destruction of unborn children.

A spokesman for the Speaker said that in his May 14 speech to Catholic University graduates, Boehner would “be delivering a personal, non-political message.”


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  • Posted by: mdepietro - May. 15, 2011 6:36 PM ET USA

    The professors are clueless. From 1947 to 1965, before the any major gov programs to "end" poverty, there was a steep rate of decline in the poverty rate for families, from 32 to about 14%, After the "war on poverty" this decline slowed with the poverty rate over the next 17 years dropping only to 12.2%,even as real spending tripled from 19 billion to 62 billion dollars. By 2009 it was back up to 14% the 1965 rate. Memo to the USCCB: the anti poverty programs seem to hurt the poor. Please stop!

  • Posted by: Pro Deo et Hibernia - May. 12, 2011 3:55 PM ET USA

    I am a senior at Catholic University about to be graduated on Saturday, and I for one am proud to have a pro-life Catholic of such a prestigious office be my Commencement speaker. Some of my professors need to learn the difference between matters of dogma and prudential judgment!

  • Posted by: Obregon - May. 12, 2011 12:54 AM ET USA

    These folks are simply "playing" politics with this issue. The key phrase here is that this matter is a prudential political judgment that we as Catholics, are free to differ with one another in good faith. The same can not be said for supporting the killing of the unborn.

  • Posted by: rpp - May. 11, 2011 6:24 PM ET USA

    Yet another demonstration that education and intelligence are not necessarily related.

  • Posted by: williiam ronner - May. 11, 2011 5:41 PM ET USA

    Time to jettison some profs.