Speaker John Boehner will deliver the commencement address at the Catholic University of America on Saturday, inspiring a letter of protest from Catholic professors claiming the Republican budget resolution for 2012 "will hurt the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable, and that he therefore has failed to uphold basic Catholic moral teachings." New York Times religion reporter Laurie Goodstein filed a respectful story that made the front of Thursday’s National section, "Critical Letter By Catholics Cites Boehner on Policies."
Yet when President Obama delivered the commencement address at Notre Dame in May 2009 amid protests that the preeminent Catholic university shouldn't be honoring a president who supports partial-birth abortion, the Times' response was snippy and dismissive. And abortion is a clear-cut issue for the Catholic Church in a way that budget levels for government welfare programs are not – even under Republican budget constraints, those programs are not going away.
Speaker John A. Boehner, a Republican who grew up in a Roman Catholic family in Ohio [note: The initial online version read "devout Roman Catholic family"] is scheduled to give the commencement address on Saturday at the Catholic University of America in Washington, a prestigious setting in church circles for its affiliation with the nation’s bishops.
But now Mr. Boehner is coming in for a dose of the same kind of harsh criticism previously leveled at some Democrats -- including President Obama -- who have been honored by Catholic universities: the accusation that his policies violate basic teachings of the Catholic Church.
More than 75 professors at Catholic University and other prominent Catholic colleges have written a pointed letter to Mr. Boehner saying that the Republican-supported budget he shepherded through the House will hurt the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable, and that he therefore has failed to uphold basic Catholic moral teachings.
Goodstein granted the professors plenty of space for their big-spending stance.
"Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the church’s most ancient moral teachings," the letter says. "From the apostles to the present, the magisterium of the church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference 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. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it."
The letter writers criticize Mr. Boehner’s support for a budget that cut financing for Medicare, Medicaid and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, while granting tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations. They call such policies "anti-life," a particularly biting reference because the phrase is usually applied to politicians and others who support the right to abortion.
When Mr. Obama, who is not Catholic, was invited to receive an honorary degree at the University of Notre Dame in 2009, there was an outcry from politically conservative Catholics because of his support for abortion rights. A few bishops said the university should withdraw the invitation, but the university administration held firm. Protesters showed up to picket.
Indeed, and the Times's coverage of those protests was snippy and dismissive, compared to the respect Goodstein showed to Boehner’s liberal Catholic opponents.
A May 18, 2009 story by Peter Baker and Susan Saulny, "At Notre Dame, Obama Calls for Civil Tone in Abortion Debate," did its best to marginalize the pro-life protests, initially arguing in the online version that "Many demonstrators had no affiliation with Notre Dame and were not even Catholic." The Times emphasized: "The crowd inside the Joyce Center enthusiastically supported Mr. Obama, erupting into sustained cheers when he arrived. Some graduating students adorned their mortarboards with a yellow cross and baby feet, a symbol of the anti-abortion movement. But just as many had the president's red-white-and-blue campaign logo on theirs, and the crowd sided with him against hecklers."
A previous preview story by Dirk Johnson on April 6, 2009 was also dismissive of conservative concerns: "But for all the high-pitched indignation, the talk among students and faculty on this gothic campus of towering oaks and sculpted saints seems to reveal a strikingly upbeat mood about Mr. Obama's visit....Threatened protests of the president's visit by some conservative groups on campus have left liberal students like Max Young cringing over what they say is the portrayal of Notre Dame as insulated and narrow-minded."