Catholics defend CUA decision to invite Boehner as commencement speaker

Speaker John Boehner
Speaker John Boehner


Ahead of House Speaker John Boehner’s May 14 commencement address at the Catholic University of America, over 75 professors from Catholic universities have written a letter criticizing the Ohio Republican’s budget proposal.

However, the letter itself drew criticism.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said with some sarcasm that it was “delightful to learn that all of these professors are now on record expressing fidelity to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

He was dismissive towards the letter’s authors, saying they are “not representative of Catholic sentiment.”

The letter from academics said Boehner’s voting record is at variance from the ancient Christian teaching 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,” they charged.

The letter said the 2012 budget Boehner supported is “particularly cruel” to pregnant women and children, as it cuts $500 million from the Women Infants and Children nutrition program. The letter also criticized the budget’s cuts to Medicaid and Medicare and its “$3 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.”

Stephen F. Schneck, director of Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, helped draft the letter.

The signatories  included many of the university’s faculty as well as Fr. Thomas J. Reese, S.J., of Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center; Lisa Sowle Cahill, a theology professor at Boston College; and Francis X. Doyle, former associate general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Schneck is on the board of directors of the Democratic-leaning group Catholics In Alliance for the Common Good, while Cahill and Fr. Reese are on the group’s advisory council.

Donohue defended Boehner, noting that Boehner is pro-life. The speaker’s support for school vouchers for residents of Washington, D.C. shows his “strong commitment” to the poor.

The Catholic League president said that Schneck had signed a 2009 letter praising the nomination of abortion rights supporter Kathleen Sebelius as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services. He also supported the 2010 health care legislation over the objections of the U.S. bishops.

Catholic University spokesman Victor Nakas said that the decision to invite Speaker Boehner and give him an honorary degree was made by the university’s president, John Garvey, and approved by its trustees, who include prominent bishops and cardinals.

Discussing the issues of the professors’ letter, Nakas said, “(t)here are diverse viewpoints on these questions not only within our university but also within the Catholic community,” the New York Times reported.
A spokesman for Boehner said that the speaker will deliver “a personal, non-political message” that he hopes will speak to all members of the graduating class.

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