Liberal Catholic academics send Boehner an uncharitable and deeply-flawed letter

A group of liberal Catholic academics, led by professors at Catholic University, have written a public letter to Catholic Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) calling for protection of social-welfare programs that they argue are mortally threatened by the current budget proposal. The lead signatory, Professor Stephen Schneck, invokes the Gospel mandate to help the poor—to ensure that “the least of these” get assistance from the state, especially when private charity fails. (Actually, Schneck made the very valid charity point on “The O’Reilly Factor” on May 12, though the point is not made in the letter.)

Unfortunately, there are at least three serious flaws with the letter:

First, the tone is seriously lacking in charity to Speaker Boehner, and even borders on the rude. I was surprised that the writers, from a PR perspective alone, didn’t tone down their emotions. Worse, the letter ends somewhat sanctimoniously by telling Boehner that he can rest assured that the professors will be praying for him and his vocation in public life. Their sincerity falls flat in light of their earlier language.

Second, and more significant, the letters fails to demonstrate even a remote awareness of the utterly disastrous fiscal situation that America faces. We have a $1.6 trillion deficit—numbers absent from this letter. For a sense of perspective, George W. Bush, going into the final year of his presidency, had a record—repeat, record—deficit of $400 billion. That was awful enough, but the current deficit quadruples that record, blowing the previous astronomical figure to smithereens. The Obama presidency and Pelosi-Reid Democratic Congress that preceded Boehner dug that hole.

Our national debt is far higher still. America’s debt-to-GNP ratio is at Greece standards.

The effect of all this on our currency, economic growth, credit rating, and much more, is catastrophic. And critically important, this crisis is not the result of a lack of tax dollars. It has been generated by a federal government that spends money it doesn’t have at an obscene and flatly immoral rate, in ways that would be literally criminal if done by the private sector. The single greatest culprit for the current deficit was the incredibly wasteful and damaging $800-billion “stimulus package” passed by President Obama and the Democratic Congress in 2009.

Sadly, the letter from the liberal Catholics to Speaker Boehner mentions nothing of the responsibility of these players in this mess, nor does it offer any appreciation to Boehner for the thankless, difficult task he faces in trying to begin to fix their disaster. It’s like calling the parent “cruel”—a word the letter directs at Boehner—for trying to clean up the house and discipline the children after they’ve practically set it on fire.

Predictably, the only spending reduction specified in the letter is “military” cuts. That’s not serious.

In truth, nothing will more undermine public and private attempts to help America’s poor than an economy that continues to flounder, or, worse, collapses. The deficit/debt levels—and insane printing of money—threaten to make a recession into a depression. We face a very real possibility of unprecedented hyperinflation that would be infinitely more deleterious to the poor than any spending reduction.

Finally, the professors’ lecturing of Boehner for a “fail[ure] to recognize … important aspects of Church teaching” would have more credibility if they had written just one letter to previous Catholic Speaker Nancy Pelosi for her indisputably misguided attempts to fund everything from domestic contraception to Planned Parenthood International.

In January 2009, Pelosi informed a stunned George Stephanopoulos of her intention to include hundreds of millions of dollars for Planned Parenthood and contraceptives in the economic “stimulus bill.” Later, Pelosi publicly invoked the intercession of Saint Joseph—before a group of reporters and approving liberal nuns—on behalf of a healthcare bill that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops insisted “must be opposed” because of its blatant unwillingness to guard the unborn.

Talk about protecting “the least of these.” How about the unborn? Where were the letters from the professors on this concern?

Last month, it was reported that President Obama rejected Boehner’s budget by drawing a line in the sand over taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. As Boehner pushed the president to defund Planned Parenthood, Obama finally snapped: “Nope. Zero. John, this is it.”

How’s that for a deal breaker? And where’s the letter by these same Catholics to President Obama? Or, if not that, couldn’t these champions of social justice at least pause to express gratitude to Speaker Boehner for taking this stand, which clearly is in line with Church teaching? Or do they themselves “fail to recognize” Church teaching when it comes to unborn human life?

These are major flaws that will prompt many of us to dismiss this letter, even as we agree that the state has a responsibility to help the poor.

Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press) and the newly released Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.


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  • Venite Exsultamus

    Non-Catholic catholics: same signers different letter. This isn’t the first time these “academics” sent letters such as this – all for political reasons. They put more emphasis on politics than on things Catholic. They use Catholicism as a means to their liberal-leaning political ends. And that means libelous usage of and outright lies about Catholic Social Teaching. That is problem 1. Problem 2 – in the letter, they want the government to be first and foremost the provider of social services. That does not coincide with Catholic Social Teaching. Government should be last behind private individuals, organizations, the Church, and all others. The Church does not teach Socialism.

    • Anon.

      Social services are not exclusive to socialism. Your rubbish is collected weekly, your water is tested to make sure its clean to drink, the road to the local town is maintained, the list goes on and on. All these things are so called social services. Perhaps you would rather pay slightly less in tax money and drive your trash over to the local dump every week, or pay a private company to test your tap water, maybe raise money locally to fix the roads. Stop radicalising social services, whether or not you have a local library shouldn’t be the test of how socialist your area is.

  • Republican Mouthpiece?

    This commentary is patently biased towards the anti-life Republican fringe. We all should be offended at Boehner and the Republicans’ obvious disdain for the American people (disdain for Americans who are not rich, at least). Kis it Catholic to be pro-Reoublican or pro-Democrat, I am proudly neither, but I abhor Republican manipulation of Catholics (they have done very little to outlaw abortion, but the undiscerning still vote for them in droves)

  • How about

    If they really want to help poor Americans STOP importing 1.2 MILLION foreign workers each year while how many MILLIONS of Americans are out of work? Keep reading there are no jobs for Americans thats why there are so many on unemployment so long yet we are still importing 100,000s of foreigner workers well DUH. PUT A FREEZE on importing foreign workers. One of the reasons other countries are going further and further into poverty is because we encourage people to come here instead of staying in their country and contributing to building their country up. Read On The Immorality of Illegal Immigration: A Priest Poses an Alternative Christian View by Fr Bascio. The book explains that and more about the immigration issue very good read!

    • Republican Mouthpiece?

      How about the Republican policy of offering massive tax cuts to companies that outsource middle class American jobs?

  • Bruce427

    Another thing that seems to have been overlooked — the Biblical mandate to “help the poor,” was given to INDIVIDUALS, not the State.

    • Francis

      Bruce427: And yet, individuals work for the state and individuals vote. We have a represetative government, so it is “by the people”. Your statement could be used to justify people like Pelosi, who are Catholic but then do not uphold Catholic teaching regarding life. One could interpret your statement to mean, “well, I would never have an abortion myself, but that’s my own moral choice.” We cannot ignore the plight of our unborn brothers and sisters, and we cannot ignore the needs of the poor when “we, the people” are making budget decisions.

  • DaveJody

    I bet these professors come from Universities (like most) that continue to raise their tuition by 10%+ every year even though our nation is under a financial crisis and most everyone is tightening their belts. How about they give up some of their high salaries and benefits and give the kids and parents a break (some who are poor). It is getting to a point that only the ultra rich can afford a higher education.

  • Francis

    “lacking in charity”, “borders on the rude”, “sanctimonious”, and in Kathryn Lopez’s article “insulting”.
    I have read and re-read the letter in question, and I honestly do not see it as any of the above. If you honestly feel this way, please point out specifically where you see this letter as “insulting”, etc., because otherwise your post(s) are just empty rhetoric. The tone of their letter seems quite objective to me. You (Paul Kengor) label all of these professors as “liberal” – do you know all of them? Could some of them be moderate? Conservative? Isn’t it possible for someone who is moderate or conservative to also be concerned for the poor?

    • Joe

      To claim that cutting entitlements is an action against the poor is a liberal view. Clearly, the authors of this letter agree with this perspective and are thus liberal, at least in regard to that subject.

      Conservatives believe that poor people are better helped by maintaining a healthy economy that has plenty of jobs and competition. They also tend to believe that private charity is more efficient and encouraged when people rely less on government run programs.

      • Francis

        Thanks, Joe. So if they signed the letter, even if they vote Republican, they are considered ‘liberal’. What if they signed the letter and also spend time volunteering at a women’s health center, trying give women in crisis the help they need to choose life? I guess I don’t feel that every person fits neatly into the category of liberal or conservative.

        • Matt B

          I think you have a point, Francis. The dichotomy between liberal and conservative is a false one. It hides a richer viewpoint, a Catholic viewpoint. I do believe it is possible to want an end to poverty and an end to abortion too. People who think politically can’t reconcile these “extemes.” That’s because, if all you have is a hammer, every problem seems to be a nail. We have far more than political concepts to deal with the world. Specifically, we have the gospel message, we have the Sacraments, we have prayer, we have the Sacred Scriptures, we have the Saints, and we have Our Lord! Have we forgotten who we are, and our infinitely rich patrimony? Certainly with so many gifts, with such a Faith, with such a loving and powerful Lord, we can overcome a merely temporal problem of not enough material resources, and widespread neglect of our personal and societal responsibilities. Didn’t Jesus multiply the loaves? Didn’t He make the blind man see? And what is our excuse for not doing the same?

          • Francis

            Matt B: Thanks – you expressed that very eloquently.

        • Joe

          Francis. I think that most people understand that referring to someone as liberal doesn’t necessarily mean that they hold every liberal position possible. It can be a reference to their position within some context. In this case, their letter expresses a liberal point of view. Those that signed the letter are indicating that they agree with it. It is accurate to indicate, within the context of this post, that a liberal perspective on this matter is common to the group by referring to them as “liberal Catholic academics”.

          • Francis

            Joe: Thanks. I resist the idea, on both sides, of labeling people as liberal or conservative, because it is an inadequate and confusing way of describing a human being. For example, one of the individuals on the list of names who signed that letter I know to be a very kind, intelligent, loving person who is pro-life and who believes in helping the poor. They are not mutually exclusive ideas. He is not a tree-hugging, banner-waving, guilt-inducing “liberal” that is evoked by that label. In fact, many people who read the gospel and live a very “conservative” life (traditional marriage, traditional values, regular participation at Mass, etc.) might be led to the notion that we must, because of our faith, make the needs of the poor a priority. This article uses the term “liberal” as an insult, to evoke the stereotype that is so common. No one, that I know, fits that stereotype.

          • Joe

            Francis. I agree that the terms liberal and conservative have their limitations. However, I don’t see where the evidence is that the use of the term “liberal” is being used as an insult here. That’s great that your friend is kind and not “tree-hugging.” However, they still hold liberal views and are expressing them with this letter. It’s not an insult for someone else to simply point this out. Remember that these terms, at least in popular usage, are primarily used to distinguish a persons stance on size of government. The attachment of social positions (marriage, abortion, tree-hugging, etc.) to either liberal or conservative types is a relatively new (and confusing) way of using the terms.



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