Opinion: Faulting John Boehner’s faith

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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.


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--Michael McGough