John Boehner will be speaking at my alma mater, the Catholic University of America, this weekend — as CUA’s commencement speaker. The most pro-life Speaker of the House we’ve had, I was happy to see CUA invite the Ohio Catholic.
As a student there points out, he is a “get” and one to be proud to welcome.
But before Boehner gets to campus, he has been greeted by an insulting letter from some professors there and at other Catholic schools (currently prominently highlighted by the New York Times). It says, in part:
It is good for Catholic universities to host and engage the thoughts of powerful public figures, even Catholics such as yourself who fail to recognize (whether out of a lack of awareness or dissent) important aspects of Catholic teaching. We write in the hope that this visit will reawaken your familiarity with the teachings of your Church on matters of faith and morals as they relate to governance.
One gets the sense this is supposed to look to be on par with conservatives (among others) criticizing Notre Dame for honoring Barack Obama and the Cardinal Newman Society’s longtime campaigns against supporters of legal abortion speaking on Catholic campuses. But it’s a false comparison.
The letter goes to lecture the Speaker:
Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings. From the apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted 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. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.
Of course, the needs of the poor are not always best served by an overreaching, hydra of a bureaucracy. Certainly not at a time when that hydra is unsustainable. Many of John Boehner’s and Republican attempts to reign in government spending and encourage job growth might be considered morally responsible.
I have some knowledge of both the Speaker and the letter’s chief signer. I’d like to think they have more in common that I suspect either knows.
As we move beyond an era that has largely dictated the prudential calls of many Catholics in public policy, the folks who have predominantly run the Catholic bureaucracies could afford to be a lot more welcoming to their politically conservative brethren. The reverse is true, too. But when so many of those who have aligned themselves with the Democratic party have — as an essential component of that alliance — made such grave concessions on the issue of the most innocent human life, am I wrong to expect more humility than that letter demonstrates?
I welcome prudential political debates among Catholics. I just worry they can frequently be scandalously disingenuous.
UPDATE: Fr. Sirico weighs in here.