The Catholic Case Against Boehner's Budgets

Friday, May 13, 2011

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) participates in a news conference at the U.S. Capitol (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Stephen F. Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, talked about the critical letter to Speaker Boehner which he and other Catholic academics signed, and other reactions from Catholics to the GOP budget.

Boehner's unlikely foe

John Boehner is set to give the commencement address at the Catholic University of America this Saturday, capping off a week in which, ironically, dozens of Catholic academics signed a letter condemning the Republican party's budget proposals for 2012 and beyond. Boehner, a fellow Catholic, is feeling heat from an unlikely source.

In the letter, Catholics urge Boehner to consider the his faith and the "teachings of charity" while criticizing cuts that would affect social insurance and welfare programs. Stephen Schneck's name was at the top of the signatories.

It looks as if the Ryan budget takes as its special target programs that serve the poorest and most vulnerable of Americans. Maternal and child health grants, WIC programs, food stamps, Medicaid and Medicare...All these things really put at risk the poorest of Americans. It seems as if that's contrary to the way our faith talks about preferencing the needs of the poor in our public policy.

Schneck went on to say that Republican policies reducing aid to pregnant women and children "could very well work to increase the number of abortions in the United States."

Preferencing the poor? What about Planned Parenthood?

Schneck maintained that the Church's teachings have been passionate about preferencing the poor for centuries, but more than one caller expressed concern about a glaring contradiction in Catholic politics. A doctor named Manuel pointed out that by opposing Planned Parenthood, the Church isn't just attacking abortion rights—they're also working against an organization that provides much needed reproductive care and contraception for the same underprivileged citizens that Schnek says he wants to defend.

Another caller went further with his accusation of hypocrisy:

I'm shocked that this discussion is even permitted. The single most important alleviation of poverty throughout the world for the past 100 years is birth control, the ability of people to control the number, spacing and timing of their children. The Church is universally opposed, throughout the world, to permitting people access to birth control.

In response, Schneck seemed to suggest that the alternative was worse than poverty.

I could get really philosophical and talk about why the Church does have its position with regard to contraception, how its opposition fits into an understanding of the fullness of human life, which includes the preferential option for the poor among many other things, but I think it's just a little too far for me to reach. It's outside the area of my expertise. 

Catholicism, or liberalism?

Toward the end of the interview, Brian Lehrer referenced an alternate budget put forth by Catholic University in response to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan's. Their fiscal plan, which they say is founded upon Catholic principles, balances the books 10 years sooner than the GOP's. They do it through a combination of closing tax loopholes, drawing down troop presence in the Middle East, raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, decreasing nuclear weapon production...

Wait, are we talking about Catholics, or Democrats?

Given my opposition to Planned Parenthood and contraception, I don't think Democrats would be too willing to embrace me on these kinds of points. If you look at this budget, which is more of a thought experiment, we tried to put together one that was consistent with Catholic social teachings, and that found a way to balance things...I did better in this little thought experiment, balancing the budget in 30 years rather than 40 years, as the speaker's budget would do.



Stephen F. Schneck


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Comments [19]

RXN from Queens

The Church has non-negotiable articles of faith which the faithful must adhere to, or be excommunicated by their deeds. The Church teachings against contraception and abortion emanate from the dignity God gave us to use our sexual organs, within a valid marriage, for the purpose to procreate and educate children. Catholics (and others) can practice Natural Family Planning to space out childbirths. Abortion and contraception are preventing God's intended use of sexual organs (or consequences), and the former is the murder of one's own child.

However, Catholics can differ in social policy - taxes, budgets, immigration, etc. They should apply principles to assist the poor and oppressed through charity and/or government benefits.

May. 16 2011 11:10 AM
Dana Snyder

It's nice to see the Catholic Church recognize that the child who breaths on his or her own has just as much importance as a fertilized egg.

May. 15 2011 03:20 PM

I agree with the person from KY who recommends "Commonweal" magazine.

May. 14 2011 12:12 PM
Sheldon Teicher from Forest Hills

The position of the Catholic Church regarding is, without doubt, a confused and conflicted thing. On the one hand eminent laypersons within the community issue this heartfelt message that thoughtful people will applaud...But, then we have the history of the hiearchy which has almost never taken the side of the poor against the wealthy and the powerful!Look to recent events in Latin America re "liberation theology"... a heresy according to the same leaders! The problem has always been that the masses don't have any influence whatsoever. It all sounds pretty but it is going nowhere-not with the church nor with the GOP!

May. 14 2011 11:25 AM
gene from NY

I remember when I was about 11, watching TV, and there was some sort of semi-riot in Louisiana, religious white people violently protesting against civil rights for blacks.

I was completely confused. "But Mom," I said, "they're _Catholics_!"

It's shocking how many Jesuit-trained Catholics you'll find working as tobacco lawyers, Burson-Marsteller underground PR mavens, corporate communications lobbyists, etc.

How such people reconcile their life-long morality is a mystery to mea.

May. 13 2011 11:33 AM
John A.

Thank-You for covering this.
In general, rebooting the Republican party is a useful goal.
I seem to have found a copy of the letter for the NYT-deprived at:

May. 13 2011 11:33 AM
Mike Treder from Brooklyn, NY

Brian, what the heck is up with you recently? Is this an unannounced "Conservative Week" on your show? First it was the reprehensible Andrew Breitbart, then it was Jimmy LaSalvia, and now it's Stephen Schneck, with all of them allowed to spout their right-wing nonsense virtually unchallenged by you. Did you get converted on your recent few days off, or what??

May. 13 2011 11:26 AM
Edward from NJ

I think he's overreaching when he says that all of the people who signed the letter would agree that abortion is their number one issue.

May. 13 2011 11:22 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

As a person who was raised Catholic, the one thing I always admired about the church was their work and programs for the poor around the world.
I am impressed Mr. Schneck's group is raising awareness about this to the GOP.

That said, it still feels complicated and incorrect to me, in that the church wants to bring awareness to the concept of helping the poor, yet many of their antiquated rules on contraception and not allowing women to be priests (so that they might develop relationships and educate poor women in need here and abroad) ultimately keep poor people in a state of need. This isn't a solution, and the Catholic church continues to lose members based on their inability to evolve with the times.

May. 13 2011 11:22 AM
Tony from Canarsie

I salute your guest and the other signers of the letter, but his claim that the church has "always been" on the side of the poor is laughable.

May. 13 2011 11:19 AM

Manny in 2012!

May. 13 2011 11:18 AM
Edward from NJ

Often, when conservatives voice opposition to programs that help people in poverty, they site examples of undeserving or lazy people exploiting the system. The notion that people need to deserve help in order to receive it is a Calvinist, Protestant point of view, but many American Catholics have adopted it.

May. 13 2011 11:18 AM
peter from new york

well said hazel

May. 13 2011 11:17 AM

After everything we have learned about the Church's conspiracy to abuse children over the past hundred years or so, why would anyone care what they say about anything? They have no moral authority at all. In fact, they are criminals.

May. 13 2011 11:15 AM

I am so relieved to hear Catholics speaking out against social injustice. For years it's been nothing but birth control, gay marriage and--of course--abortion. None of which has any foundation in the original teachings of Jesus.

Oh--oops, I spoke too soon!--your guest just said, "abortion is the number one issue."

Really? In all of the world abortion is the MOST important issue? That is appalling and why I never look back on leaving the Catholic Church way back when I was in college. It literally appalls me. I cannot believe anyone who read the New Testament can claim that, if Jesus were to arrive on this planet, the first and most pressing issue for him would be abortion.

A larger problem, right off the bat, would be the Catholic Church telling the world's poorest people to not use birth control. And then not advocating any support for these children whatsoever.

May. 13 2011 11:15 AM
ZB Smetana from Murray, KY

FINALLY!!! as a liberal catholic I have been waiting a very long time to hear catholicism discussed in the way not hijacked by a very small extreme group on the far right. For further evidence of the whole breath of catholic thinking, read the "Commonweal" magazine
Thank you

May. 13 2011 11:13 AM
Karen from NYC

I am Catholic. It is very unfortunate that, to advance it's social agenda -- anti-choice, anti-birth control -- the Church has allied itself with conservative Republicans, whose policies spell disaster for working Americans and the poor. Perhaps the Church should take a closer look at with whom it has put itself in bed, politically, before taking out after Boehner and his like. You lie down with dogs and you get fleas.

May. 13 2011 11:13 AM
Julie from Hastings-on-Hudson

For the strong, official Catholic statements on economic justice, including labor rights, see
1. the US Council of Catholic Bishops
2. the Pope's most recent encyclical, 2009, “Caritas in Veritate", which he defines as "the principle around which the Church's social doctrine turns, a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action. I would like to consider two of these in particular, of special relevance to the commitment to development in an increasingly globalized society: JUSTICE AND THE COMMON GOOD [emphasis in the original]."

Of course whatever the Church teaching -- whether against abortion or women's ordination on the one hand, or, on the other hand, against the Iraq War from the outset and for economic justice -- none of these teachings, while official, have been issued as "infallible".

May. 13 2011 10:37 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The Church's position is that the Church sets out the moral guidelines and goals related to morality, for example, care for the poor. It's up to the politicians to decide how best to accomplish those goals.

May. 13 2011 10:01 AM

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