On the occasion of Speaker John Boehner’s recent commencement address at the Catholic University of America, 78 faculty members from Catholic colleges and universities signed an open letter criticizing him. Claiming that his voting record is at variance from the Church’s “most ancient moral teachings to preference the needs of the poor,” the letter alleges that Boehner’s support for legislation to address the needs of the poor is “among the worst in Congress.”
Ignoring his strong pro-life voting record, the faculty members scolded Boehner for the 2012 budget he shepherded to passage in the House of Representatives because they believe it gives tax cuts to the wealthy and removes protections for others. Advising him that it is his “moral duty as a legislator” to put the needs of the poor foremost in his considerations, the signatories enclosed a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church — the catechism for Catholic obligations in public life.
It is ironic that this particular group of Catholic faculty members would choose to draw from the Compendium to educate the speaker on what the Church really teaches. The Compendium cautions that the first right — ahead of all other rights — is the right to life. Pronouncing abortion a “horrendous crime,” the Compendium warns about the illicitness of supporting abortion. Yet several of those signing the letter have publicly campaigned for pro-choice Catholic politicians — all Democrats — who not only promised to support a woman’s right to choose, but have consistently voted to expand abortion rights.
Catholic University professor Steve Schneck, the spokesman and organizer of the Boehner letter campaign, has actively supported several pro-abortion politicians. In 2009, he was one of 26 Catholic scholars who signed the statement “Catholics for Sebelius,” supporting President Obama’s selection of Kathleen Sebelius as secretary of health and human services. As governor of Kansas, Sebelius vetoed pro-life legislation on four separate occasions.
A serial signer of these kinds of open statements, Schneck’s was also one of 24 signatures on a full-page ad published in the South Bend Tribune titled “Catholic Leaders and Theologians Welcome President Obama to Notre Dame.” Sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a George Soros–funded organization, the ad was intended to quell the controversy over the University of Notre Dame’s awarding of an honorary degree to the president.
The Most Rev. Charles Chaput, archbishop of Denver, has said that
the work of Democrat-friendly groups like Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have done a disservice to the Church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue.
Schneck currently serves on the group’s board of directors. Boston College professor Lisa Sowle Cahill, who also signed the Boehner letter, serves on its advisory council, and during the 2008 presidential election served on Obama’s National Catholic Advisory Committee and effectively argued that when a candidate supports issues of social justice, such as the living wage and equality for women, Catholics can indeed support the pro-abortion candidate even when there is an acceptable pro-life candidate running for office.
It was Catholic academics like Sowle Cahill and Schneck who made the argument that Catholics could vote “in good conscience” for the pro-abortion candidate because that candidate would enact policies which would reduce abortion. Despite Pope Benedict’s admonition that Catholic colleges must be unwavering in their commitment to Catholic teachings, it was Catholic theologians who so distorted Catholic teachings on abortion that they managed to help convince yet another generation of voters that abortion is sometimes the best response a woman can make to an unintended pregnancy.
But there are signs that this may be changing. Courageous bishops are beginning to confront the duplicity on their own campuses. For faithful Catholics, the fact that Speaker Boehner was even invited to address the graduates at the Catholic University of America is a hopeful sign.
— Anne Hendershott is professor of urban studies at the King’s College, New York City, and author of Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education (Transaction).