Is John Boehner Really Pro-Life? Catholic Scholars Give Speaker a Catechism Lesson
As Michael Sean Winters points out over at Distinctly Catholic, one of the most important things about the pointed letter Catholic University faculty and theologians across the country sent John Boehner is how it challenges the Catholic Speaker of the House on what’s often described as the “life issues.” The full spectrum of Catholic social teaching about the sanctity of life does not end with abortion. As the letter details, the House budget that Boehner helped pass is anything but pro-life when evaluated by its impact on pregnant women, the elderly and those who live in poverty. Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times takes particular note of how the Catholic scholars broaden the pro-life frame in her story today.
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.
Conservative Catholic activists, bloggers and intellectuals have frequently defined the terms of debate over Catholic values in public life. The Catholic right aggressively mobilizes to pressure Catholic politicians, universities, and even bishops (see the vitriol Cardinal O’Malley faced in Boston during the funeral of Sen. Edward Kennedy) it views as “unorthodox.” This earns headlines and scores political points, but in the process it creates a distorted narrative about Catholic issues in the press. This is why it’s heartening to see scholars and theologians at the finest Catholic universities in the country pushing back in a respectful, high-profile manner that articulates authentic values at the heart of our Catholic tradition and offers a more nuanced picture of Catholicism in the media. Bill Donohue take note!
Speaker Boehner’s reaction to the letter is disappointing. His spokesman responded to reporters by saying Rep. Boehner will “be delivering a personal, non-political message.” When President Obama, who isn’t Catholic, gave the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame he faced considerable pressure from Catholic bishops, but he had enough respect for the Catholic intellectual tradition to discuss how his views both diverged from and reflected Catholic teaching on a range of issues. Mr. Boehner, a practicing Catholic and a graduate of a Jesuit university, should be held to the same standard. This provocative and timely letter should offer the Speaker good food for thought. Mr. Boehner still has a few days to keep working on his speech.