Catholic faculty question Boehner’s record on poor before commencement address

Three days before House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is scheduled to deliver the commencement address at Catholic University, dozens of faculty at Catholic colleges — including many from the university — have written to the Catholic speaker, criticizing him for having a record “among the worst in Congress” on protecting the poor.

The letter, released Wednesday, was organized by faculty at Catholic University, the national university of the Catholic Church in Northeast Washington.

The letter does not protest Boehner’s visit or ask the school to rescind its invitation, but urges him to “reawaken your familiarity” with church teaching on the subject of poverty. It focuses on the 2012 budget Boehner is shepherding, criticizing it for cuts that would hurt the poor and are “particularly cruel to pregnant women and children.”

In a blog post Wednesday morning, the liberal Catholic writer Michael Sean Winters wrote that the proposed budget would increase abortions because it cuts funding to programs that serve at-risk pregnant women, who ostensibly would then be more likely to seek abortions.

Of the nearly 80 signers, about 30 are from Catholic University, including faculty from the schools of law, nursing, history and theology, among others. Catholic has about 750 full- and part-time faculty.

“There are diverse viewpoints on these questions not only within our university but also within the Catholic community in the United States,” Catholic University said in a statement. “We wish to point out that the decision to invite Speaker Boehner and to grant him an honorary degree was proposed by the president of Catholic University and approved by the university’s board of trustees.”

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said the response to the speaker’s appearance from Catholic University students has “largely been positive.”

“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,” Steel said. “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.”

There has been little public comment from U.S. Catholic bishops, the official voices of the church, regarding the budget talks. The two men who co-chair the bishops’ committees on domestic and international justice, which typically include subjects related to funding for the poor, have sent several public letters to Congress since the budget talks ramped up, urging lawmakers to prioritize the needs of the poor. The letters have also urged lawmakers not to fund abortions in the budget.

And the bishops’ lobbyists on the Hill have been active in fighting to protect programs for the poor and pregnant women.

But the vast majority of bishops have been silent during debates, which may reflect that they, like the Catholic population, are sharply divided in their general political leanings.

A Washington Post-ABC poll last month showed that like most Americans, white Catholics — who make up 71 percent of U.S. Catholics and were the only group large enough to produce reliable results in a poll of that size — oppose cuts to Medicaid and Medicare as a way to reduce the nation’s debt and support raising taxes on those with incomes of more than $250,000.

Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.
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