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Faulting John Boehner's faith


I have mixed views about a letter 70 Catholic scholars and theologians have sent to Speaker of the House John Boehner in preparation for his commencement address at the Catholic University of America. The signers of the letter chide Boehner for positions they say are at odds with Catholic teaching.

For example: "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 [sic] 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."

The signers are absolutely right that the Catholic Church's social teaching (not to mention its position on immigration) places it well outside Boehner's  camp. I was glad to see that ably documented.  And I enjoyed the "turnabout is fair play" aspect of the almost-excommunication of Boehner. (See! Liberal Catholics can question the Catholic credentials of public officials too.)

And yet, it bothers me that Boehener, as a Catholic, is being called to account for his actions in Congress. It is true that the budget he shepherded through the House "guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society." But there is a sense about the letter that Boehner hasn't followed his marching orders from the church. This is the same critique that conservative Catholics make about Catholic members of Congress who support abortion rights. And the implication is the same: that Catholic politicians' first duty is to their faith as it is articulated by the hierarchy, and not, say, to the opinions of constituents.

We're a long way from John F. Kennedy's Houston speech.


Is Pope John Paul II fit for sainthood?

A ghost at the royal wedding

Catholics and gays: Closer than you think

Prayers and panic in the air

--Michael McGough

Photo: House Speaker John A. Boehner. Credit: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images / May 10, 2011


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Dancing Scorpion

Speak your truth John Boehner.


What the heck was that all about?

P J Evans

I think that the current hierarchy of the Catholic church expects church members to follow its teachings (sort of reasonable), and thinks that non-members should do so, too (out of bounds).
That's where people part company with them, because the church hierarchy does *not* have that power in the real world, and never will. (They never did, although they think that was true, too.)


Why belong to something you do not belive in? You are either what you claim or a liar.

The Independent Rage

What are you trying to do to this man? Make him cry? But kidding aside, Party Time can take the criticism. He'll just cut out of work at 4:30 and head to happy hour, same as it ever was. What a life!


It matters not what this church thinks of him, what matters that he is wrong-headed and intent on destroying America's social infrastructure and turning the country into a business where only those who pay have any say. Seems wholly un-American to me.


It cuts both ways.

1 Timothy 5:8 "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."

There is plenty of room for people of goodwill to disagree about budgetary and welfare-vs-personal-responsibility issues without personal attacks regarding people's faith.


The letter does not argue that Boehner has the responsibility to obey the clergy's "marching orders." The letter does two things. 1) It challenges Boehner to be faithful to the Christian tradition he claims to be part of...a tradition that includes but is larger than official teachings. 2) It offers the moral argument that government should be concerned (preferentially) with threats to human life and well being. It uses the Roman Catholic tradition (Boehner's tradition) as an EXAMPLE of such moral reasoning. These Roman Catholic scholars are arguing that Boehner is philosophically/morally wrong...not that he is being disobedient to clergy.


PJ Evans, it was not all that long ago that the Catholic Church did indeed control territory and wield political power in the land they controlled. Familiarize yourself with the "Papal States", city states controlled direcly by the Pope via his Bishops from Rome. These existed in what is not modern Italy until the 1860's. It was through the revolution led by Guiseppi Garibaldi with considerable military help from Napoleon that Vatican armies were defeated and Italy unified into a single country.
As you noted, the Catholic Church still acts as if they have the sort of absolute power to dictate the behavior of their subject they had until just 140 years ago. Old habits die hard.
Consider that confession is really just a tool of humint, human intelligence. Imagine the power of a king who could command his subjects to confess all their transgression to the kings underlings, the priests and bishops who wielded absolute authority in their city states. Imagine the useful intel the Pope had this way.
All of Catholicsm is a sham perpetrated to elevate and enrich the clergy at the expense of the laity. As a free people we need none of this.
Read John Adams 1865 "A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law" for a full explanation.

Greg Maragos

It appears that secular journalists are all in favor of the separation of church and state, unless, of course, they're against it.


The issue is NOT the teachers' letter, or Boehner's uncharitable stance in Congress. It is the silence of the US bishops who claim to support "social justice" but only attack politicians who support abortion rights. Talk about one-issue voters.

Humbuggery at work!


It's not just about Boehner and the Catholic Church.

It's about the fact that the central message of Jesus was to feed the poor, a philosophy that is turned on its head by so-called "Christian" Republicans who currently are working hard to take from the poor and give to the rich.


The poor are always the ones to suffer the most in downturns.
Obama's policies are damaging most the very people that he portends to want to help.
Offering welfare as opposed to jobs appears to be the policy of this administration.


This post is another example of Liberals who prefer Conservatives to follow the faith when it suit their Liberal interests. It is a double standard.

The Catholic Church is wrong on this. The country is broke and is borrowing massive amounts to feed its machine. Is the church calling for more debt? The government is making everyone poorer.



aldol Obama is the one who doesn't care for the poor? did you JUST arrive in this country?


Ha! yeah, it's the liberals fault on this one too. you know what I say to that?



More proof that religion poisons everything it touches.


Oh jezus I'm amazed that the church has time for this after all they have enough
On their hands with all the rapes of little girls and boys by their employees.


'GOD will know his own'.


Jesus said nothing about the STATE being responsible for the poor. It seems that the typical liberal response to those in need is a map to the nearest welfare office. And no money for bus fare.


Real good insightful comments by Jeremy and SDM. Caring for the poor and Thou shalt not kill (including the unborn; they're human), are political as well as religious issues. These are also moral concerns which supersede consideration of church and state separation. John Boehner is remiss in not speaking on behalf of the poor--an evil and hypocrisy of many Christian Republicans (not personally judging Boehner as evil or a hypocrite; he isn't; I believe he's good), but he is remiss. L.A. Times, why criticize the Catholic Church for doing their job as a Christian organization? ?? For any true Christian, politician or not, their first duty is to the Faith, not to constituents. Thing is....It's a careful balance. You honor the Constitution by not legislating morality, but at the same time as an individual you don't compromise the Faith for any reason. I admit it's not as simple as some Christians say; it's a balancing act. L.A. Times! Understandable to criticize the politician, but the Church for honoring the Faith?! What would this country be like without Christians standing up for Biblical morality? Still waiting for a pro-life, pro-Christian Editorial. Los Angeles Times?


This is yet another one of the Catholic Church's open declarations of war against the First Amendment: telling American politicians to abandon democratic principles of representative government in favor of a religious agenda determined by the monarchy of the Pope.

Because clearly the Pope better understands the will of the American people better than the people themselves. Just like Kim Jong Il knows what's best for North Koreans.

I, for one, welcome our new Catholic overlords.


Uh, yeh! Boner like a lot of Republican hypocrites professes to be a Christian yet in practice, he violates every notion of charity to the least able in our society.

Elizabeth Sholes

Since no one ever disputes the Catholic critique of those of us who are liberal and in disagreement with them over sexual justice issues, why the outcry when the Bishops and others critique conservatives on economic justice issues? The Catholic church has its values. Some we share; some we do not. Those decrying the church's criticism of Speaker Boehner would be celebrating the Church's comments if the issues were different. That's sheer hypocrisy.


"For any true Christian, politician or not, their first duty is to the Faith, not to constituents."

FAIL. Politicians first duty is to their constituents. If the majority gave their politician a mandate on religious issues, then it would be consistent for them to follow their faith with concrete limitations.

"an evil and hypocrisy of many Christian Republicans"

FAIL. A difference in Christian philosophy isn't evil. Many believe welfare is not a government responsibility. The Bible does not say the poor is government's responsiblity. When the government is less involved in these issues, the people step up. This is always true.


Uh Jeremy? You want to give history lessons? Napoleon was out of power in 1815, Italian unification 1870-1. Yeah, his conquering of Northern Italy promoted a nationalistic response, but he wasn't around to help anyone in 1870


Boy, the liberals are responsible for everything these days. Nice try.

I'm glad the church called him out, and I hope that it got him thinking for a split second.

Jason Hammerstein

The GOP and the tea party lunatics racists, do not care for anyone who is not rich or white end of story. These people are a cancer to what this country stands for.


Cheese you may know some catholic history but you don't understand the structure and why the church do certain acts such as confession and celibacy. Let me ask you this, why would any human institution set up such a crazy system of a person sitting inside a box listening to GARBAGE that people do? Why would any one set up a system that would put their people in authority through such torture? Why would they require that their leaders not get married? Look at all the man-made religions out there, one sure sign that they are man-made is how they treat life, divorce, remarriage, and the number of people one can marry. If the HRCC is a man-made religion then wouldn't it make sense that the people in charge would make rules that would be easy on themselves?


The church can say whatever it wants. It is Boehner's (and all elected officials') responsibility to put aside religious pressure and vote according to what he believes is best for the nation. I happen to disagree with almost all Boehner's positions on issues, but I applaud him for doing what he thinks is right for the country and not allowing church pressure to determine his votes.


In the days of Jesus, the poor were not 25 pounds overweight with cell phones and flat screen TVs.

john c

woof-woof ,
Your quote of Timothy is a bit off from the intent. It speaks to people like dead-beat dads that don't support their families. It's not speaking to those that due to various struggles (health, single moms, mental health, poor education) can't fully support themselves. Yes there are lazy yet able people on public assistance but they are rare as such assistance pays no where near as well as getting a proper job if one is able.

You said:
" It cuts both ways.

1 Timothy 5:8 "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."

There is plenty of room for people of goodwill to disagree about budgetary and welfare-vs-personal-responsibility issues without personal attacks regarding people's faith. "

i am not bob

This whole article might as well say "I support a democratic adjenda"

Yes it is an opinion piece, but the author is doing nothing more than the Catholic Church did. - ie telling his or her own opinion. Where the author agrees with the Catholic church- helping the poor and immigration- that is ok; but the tone is 'hold on you are just going too far there pal' when the church gets into abortion rights. I am not commenting on the correctness of the political views, just the fact i find the article useless.

john c

An elected official's primary responsibility is to his/her constituents. That said generally before being elected they run on a platform that reflects their personal values based on religion or whatever and the people decide which candidate's values match their own. This saves the official from having to ask their constituents every time they vote. For Boehner he claims to be Catholic but his personal beliefs are at odds with the church's teachings. It would not really be right for him to suddenly start voting consistent with the church as his constituents would rightly claim a sort of "bait and switch" changing _after_ he's in office. So to be right (not that he should be compelled) he should either declare he doesn't follow the church anymore, resign or at least ask his constituents if it's okay for him to start voting more in line with the church's teachings.

marge samuelson

I can't stand the man or his politics but since when does it matter what the heck the Catholic Church or any church for that matter thinks when it comes to the U.S. Government. Remember separation of church and state, good idea then, great idea now.


Marching orders? What they did was to remind Boehner that as a Catholic he was to be guided by the same moral principles they were guided by and, by that standard, he was failing miserably. Well, he is failing. He doesn't care about the underclass a bit. OK, he's a Republican, he's not supposed to care about them, but when he accepts an invitation to do the commencement speech at Catholic University of America he makes himself a deer on opening day of hunting season.


Let's hear it for good ole rev Wright...Oh, forgot, he's Obama's spiritual zen master.
I've wondered what it must be like to be wired liberal, always looking for something else to pay my way...


The writer and some commenting people here missed two points:

1. Catholic professors and theologians AREN'T the Catholic hierarchy. In fact, on the whole, they are a very liberal anti-Republic bunch of rather old people. They are definitely not as conservative as very very few Catholic bishops.

2. None of the signatories faulting Speaker Boehner, stood up against Speaker Pelosi with her highly un-Catholic actions, and her complete disregard for the Magisterium. THAT begs a question: is all this just an attempt on the character of a fellow Catholic orchestrated by the liberal "Catholic" academia which was always a willing bedfellow of the abortionist Pelosi & Co. ?


I think the catholic Church is asking Mr. Boehner to walk the talk. Put into action what Mr. Boehner was taught as his core principles. As a Nichiren Buddhist, I am taught to put into practice what I am taught, respect for all others.

Dan Devise

Certain Catholic Bishops refuse to give Communion to Catholic officeholders who are personally against abortion yet take a public policy position in favor of each individual woman's own choice -- not even a public policy position favoring abortion, just favoring individual choice in the matter.

It seems to me that if these certain Catholic Bishops can impose their own personal views pretending that they are the views of their Church, then anyone is free to at least question why other occupants of public office fail or refuse to follow Church teachings on other subjects -- such as faith, hope and charity, love thy neighbor, and the love of money is the root of all evil.


Have these Catholic scholars noticed Nancy Pelosi who takes her Catholicism on and off like an overcoat and had the mendacity to lecture the Pope about the teachings of the Church?

And helping the poor, means helping them. Am I the only American who has driven through our inner cities and noticed that 50 years and 15 TRILLION dollars later there is only despair, crime, gangs, drugs and the worst schools in the nation in these Democratically controlled war zones.

Our poor should tell the Democrats to take their "help" and go to Hell.

These Catholic scholars should reflect upon the difference between giving and helping.


You took your passage out of context--it is about how widows should be treated. According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the primary responsibility is indeed to the family, but if the family lacks the means, then the community is responsible for the care of widows--especially elderly widows--the very same type of person that Speaker Boehner (and his fellow Catholic Paul Ryan) would deny Medicare and Social Security (both of which the widows paid into while working as did their husbands). What cuts both ways is that the Catholic Republicans who assumed (along with the help of some misguided clergy) that being pro-life was necessary AND sufficient to be in alignment with Catholic moral teachings. It is necessary, BUT NOT sufficient and that is what this letter points out and what the bishops and clergy themselves should point out.

paul belfiore

I guess there are no catholic democrats.

Patrick Righton

The catholic church is probably the richest organisation in the world, and yet you see beggars sitting on the steps of ornate churches. Jesus gave all that he had to the poor he had no assets other than the clothes on his back. the organisation has set self preservation as its top priority and is hypocritical in its attack on this man... shall we examine their track record shall we? oh how quickly we forget...

Stephen Groth

In his book Exodus from Hunger: We Are Called to Change the Politics of Hunger, David Beckmann, says that "we (meaning the people of America) are "Pharaoh". This simply means that in a democracy the government is "ours" and we cannot put on somebody else the responsibility for what our government neglects. We need to take care of the poor.

Whether we want the civil argument or the faith driven one, the same conclusion is reached. Warren Buffet says if he was born in Somalia he would not have been able to achieve what he did. The faithful believe we all owe a debt of gratitude that we can never repay to our creator.

Whether it is the great society that we have been born into and opportunities we have as a result or the lord God who gives us everything, we have a duty to build and create a society that does its best to make sure everyone has the opportunites and benefits we and others have had.


I totally agree with the republicans and Boehner. Our tax money should go to fund oil exploration and move jobs over seas to china and vietnam.

Screw the single mothers barely making a living working two jobs and the people that got ripped off in the morgage scam. They can live on the streets and the church should just stay out of it.


It is stated in Matthew 25:40, When did I see you hungry Lord? When did I see you naked Lord? Mr Boehner is the "Camel throught the eye of the needle" He has lost his way to the kingdom of God for he mistreats God's people. He will not see his ill ways until judgment day. Unless he grows a moral compass in these next few months and stops being the: Tax Collector of the rich.", He will be" cast into the lake of fire!" Along with all of the republicans that worship at the feet of the "Golden Calf." They are too bline to see how crooked they are, becuase the smell of money has made them mad.


In the meantime let's not be too concerned that Nacy Pelosi wants to kill unborn children through no controls on abortion on demand in this country.

But I forgot since that it is very PC to be pro-abortion nowadays.


Actually, the Catholic Church is well advised to distance himself from Speaker Boehner. As a practicing Catholic, I want it well understood that I stand with the Church on social justice issues, and do not want to be associated with the selfish and destructive worldview of the Speaker and his Republican acolytes. That is what this is about, not some mythical "marching orders." The Church is simply reminding people of what it has always taught, and noting that, in this instance, it stands apart from someone who claims to be, and has been publicly identified as, a Catholic. Republicans had no problem, by the way, when the Church was calling John Kerry to account for his views on abortion.

Sean McCarthy

Where is it written in the New Testiment that a politician must bankrupt his nation to care for the poor? Where does it say that a nation must shift so much of its resources to salaries and benefits for its workers that it can not pay it other bills?

Charity is something done privately and with the spirit of generosity. Jesus never said "force you brothers to do the right thing". As for Boehner's detractors We have never heard similar criticism of the politicians who wasted the Trillions of dollars is well intentioned but truely misguided spending.

An act of charity and of caring that requires that others give is not charity. It is redistribution of wealth. Giving in scilence and out of the public's eye is real charity. We confuse the acts of politicians wuth the acts of private citizens. I woud prefer my representaties take their cue from the markets and world events. Leave the acts of personal conscience to the individuls to make in a quiet moment.

Jesus repeatedly urged us to be frugal and industrious. We judge anyone who controls or spends public money by the standard of the foolish servant who barries his masters money instead of investing it. This would include most of the representatives supported by my Catholic brothers who are critical of Boehner.

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