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Is John Boehner Really Pro-Life? Catholic Scholars Give Speaker a Catechism Lesson

May 11, 2011, 5:31 pm | Posted by John Gehring

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.


5 Responses to “Is John Boehner Really Pro-Life? Catholic Scholars Give Speaker a Catechism Lesson”

  1. Louis says:

    I’ve never read the faith in public life blog before hearing about the letter to Boehner. After review of the top stories on the blog and the coincidental location of the organization, it’s pretty clear the viewpoints of this blog are in lock-step with the Democratic Party. As a Catholic I believe in compassion and generosity for the poor and for those that cannot help themselves. However, what is occuring in this country, and assisted through your preaching that government programs are the answer, is that the poor, less able and many times the undeserved are supported by those that have a little more not just by free will, but by the force of government. God believes in helping all through free will and with human liberties intact. Nothing can perverse that more than the Democrat government using Catholic organizations to promote the creation programs and policies for “charity” by forcing others to act at the expense of their free will. These same Catholic organizations should look internally to further grow these programs outside of government. Shameful. What’s ever more shameful is this post will probably never make it public at the discretion of the site owner.

  2. Andy says:

    In response to John – I find your comments to be disgraceful – look at other sites that claim to be Catholic and they are in lock step with the republicans. Perhaps recognizing that those of good faith can disagree would remove your blinders. Having said that – what did Jesus tell the rich man to do – sell all that you own and give it to the poor and follow Me. I never see conservative Catholics mention this stricture, or how about the stricture against mammon. Charity is one of the virtues, while free will isn’t. I am curious which Catholic teachings you elect to follow since the broadest range of Catholic Social teaching supports the letter writers. Even more problematic is your contention that this will not be public – it is and that is very much unlike many conservative Catholic sites.

  3. Dan says:

    Based on the USCCB’s stated principles on economic life, advocating for government involvement in alleviating poverty is entirely consistent with Catholic teaching.


  4. Louis says:

    Alleviating poverty by the State should be limited if possible. The Role of the State in the Economic Sector? Straight from John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus referred to in USCCB “Another task of the State is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the State but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society. The State could not directly ensure the right to work for all its citizens unless it controlled every aspect of economic life and restricted the free initiative of individuals. This does not mean, however, that the State has no competence in this domain, as was claimed by those who argued against any rules in the economic sphere. Rather, the State has a duty to sustain business activities by creating conditions which will ensure job opportunities, by stimulating those activities where they are lacking or by supporting them in moments of crisis. The State has the further right to intervene when particular monopolies create delays or obstacles to development. In addition to the tasks of harmonizing and guiding development, in exceptional circumstances the State can also exercise a substitute function, when social sectors or business systems are too weak or are just getting under way, and are not equal to the task at hand. Such supplementary interventions, which are justified by urgent reasons touching the common good, must be as brief as possible, so as to avoid removing permanently from society and business systems the functions which are properly theirs, and so as to avoid enlarging excessively the sphere of State intervention to the detriment of both economic and civil freedom.

    In recent years the range of such intervention has vastly expanded, to the point of creating a new type of State, the so-called “Welfare State”. This has happened in some countries in order to respond better to many needs and demands, by remedying forms of poverty and deprivation unworthy of the human person. However, excesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the “Social Assistance State”. Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.100

    By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need. One thinks of the condition of refugees, immigrants, the elderly, the sick, and all those in circumstances which call for assistance, such as drug abusers: all these people can be helped effectively only by those who offer them genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care.”

  5. Louis says:

    I’m glad we can agree that a debate is healthy for our democracy and for religion. Jesus may have told the rich man to sell all that you own and give it to the poor, but in no way did he mean by force. Benevolence cannot come from by the force of government, it can only come from each and every one of us through free will. Throughout the Bible verses tell us to make choices and how we are to live our lives. If we are to follow this advice it requires free will and the ability to make those choices. So it’s pretty clear that we are to make choices through free will. Doing good through free will is true Charity. The government doesn’t deal in Charity, it deals in favors and hampers freedoms. Do you feel it is morally justified for a poor man on the street to TAKE money from a man who walks by who may seem to have money? Of course you don’t. But you feel the government has the wisdom and right do so? A government who wastes money by the billions, has put our country in $14 trillion in debt and who is leading us down the path of bankruptcy which will enslave our future generations. Where is the wisdom of “taxing the rich” and the middle class in order to spend money on wasteful programs (in many cases). The true disgrace is these websites and letters of opinion allow government to use religion to validate their policies so they can push forth their agendas. If we continue to cozy up to liberal government and condone their liberal secular beliefs under the guise of godliness, one day we’ll wake up in a world where certain Catholic beliefs will contradict liberal polices to the point that they will be viewed as criminal. Don’t believe it? You should because you’re perpetuating it.