Boehner's Catholic Lessons

By E.J. Dionne - May 23, 2011

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"We congratulate you on the occasion of your commencement address to The Catholic University of America," they wrote. "It is good for Catholic universities to host and engage the thoughts of powerful public figures, even Catholics such as yourself who fail to recognize (whether out of a lack of awareness or dissent) important aspects of Catholic teaching."

The rest of the letter was tough. "From the apostles to the present," the professors wrote, "the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor." They added: "Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress."

The letter specifically condemned the House-passed Ryan budget, arguing that it "guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society." It cited the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' strong criticisms of the GOP plan: "A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons," the bishops wrote. Pointedly, the Catholic academics said the budget had "anti-life implications," including its cuts to the Women, Infants, and Children program.

For their efforts, the professors got nothing like the avalanche of attention let loose by the far angrier anti-Obama Notre Dame protesters. As for Boehner, his address went off peacefully. He offered a sweet-natured, non-political talk about the power of "humility, patience and faith," complete with references to the Blessed Mother, the Hail Mary prayer, and the speaker's intrepid Catholic high school football coach.

It was perfectly fitting that Boehner gave his speech at Catholic, just as it was appropriate for Obama to address the graduates at Notre Dame. So what should we learn?

Bishops and right-wingers should stop trying to drive speakers away from Catholic campuses. Confidence in the truth of the church's teachings should make its institutions more, not less, open to reasoned dialogue and conversation.

The media should note that Catholicism has a lot to say, not just about abortion but also about justice and compassion. And the Catholic professors just might force journalists to ponder whether they actually punish the civility they routinely and lavishly praise.


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Copyright 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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