Georgetown Jesuit joins letter chastising Boehner

Yesterday, the National Catholic Reporter published an open letter signed by academics at several U.S. Catholic colleges that chastises cuts to social services proposed by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner as out of line with Catholic social teaching.

The letter, which comes as Boehner is due to give the commencement address at the Catholic University of America on Saturday, carries the signature of Georgetown’s own Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Library.

“His budget proposals give tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting programs that help the most venerable vulnerable,” Reese said. “While I recognize the necessity of reducing our deficits in the long-term, this should not be done on the backs of the poor. All Americans must sacrifice.”

Stephen Schneck, director for the Institute of Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic University, led the effort to draft the message to Boehner and reached out to Reese to as a friend and colleague at Georgetown. However, Reese did not ask other University faculty to sign on so as not the give the impression that the effort was an attack on Catholic University’s academic freedom.

The letter calls for a “circle of protection” around programs such as Women Infants and Children, food stamps, and Medicaid, which face cumulatively face over $1 trillion in cuts. Meanwhile, the signatories slam Boehner for tax cuts that will cost over $3 trillion in lost revenue over ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings,” the letter reads. “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.”

Photo: Woodstock Theological Library

23 Comments on “Georgetown Jesuit joins letter chastising Boehner

  1. That’s wonderful!

    P.S. Are you sure venerable is the right word here?

  2. you don’t have to view his policies from a catholic lens to know that boehner sucks, but its nice that so many catholic academics agree.

  3. Yeah, I’m thinkin it was supposed to be “vulnerable”

    Nonetheless, good for Fr. Reese. I couldn’t agree more. Boehner’s plan is a nonsensical appeasement to a flawed ideology. It amazes me that it takes a Jesuit to point out that what his party is proposing is simply wrong.

  4. So Father Reese believes it’s proper to have legally, fairly earned property (my income) taken under threat of violence (arrest and jail) simply to give to others – who may or may not actually be deserving? No wonder I gave up on the Catholic church.

  5. @Alumni

    Yes. Those are called taxes. Welcome to civilization.

  6. @JustSaying

    You must be a sophmore – civilization would exist without such programs; in fact, might be better without such programs because the government process for such programs is so inefficient. Go read some studies on the efficiency of government versus charities.

    (By the way did the wonderful Father Reese written any such letters to the former Speaker?)

  7. @ Alumni,

    You said: “By the way did the wonderful Father Reese written any such letters to the former Speaker?”

    You must be a sophomore — in high school — and not a good one, at that. (Yes, “sophomore” has three o’s.)

  8. Cool, when a charity gets set up that can sufficiently provide money for disable people who physically cannot work, provides medical treatment to kids whose parents are poor (not the kid’s fault), and provides universal education until 12th grade, then totally get rid of government programs. Right now they don’t exist and nor will they….ever, because it is a natural and understandable desire to keep the money one makes.

    Note that society contributed greatly to improving your life, no matter how much you try and deny it. Next time you get up in the morning and eat the bacon you brought home you can rest assured it’s not going to kill you thanks to government regulation. Read the jungle? Then when you get in your car you can know it’s safe thanks to similiar government programs. Oh yeah and that freeway you drive on. If there were no government there would be no roads or police forces or public education system. Business couldn’t function. That’s a fact. They are called “public goods” and inherently no one pays for them without an institutions (government) set up to make people do it. I’m a sophOmore and I know that. Guess it’s time for you to retake IR.

  9. Thank you for sticking up for the meek! Now if only I could understand where you all were during the healthcare reform act. Also do you think you could tell Big Oil that great line in this article… “we all must sacrifice.” Them seem to not get that we have fought two wars in Iraq over oil and riches while murdering innocents including our own who believed the lies Republicans have been telling for over 30 years now.

  10. @Alumni

    “legally, fairly earned property”? It’s not legal if you don’t pay taxes, brah. Doubtful whether it’s fair either, given the systemic inequities in the U.S.

  11. OK – yeah, yeah, typos – I had 15 seconds of time between calls – so let’s go back to the substance –

    Father Reese says that the power of the state should be used to take your property at the point of a gun. Face it, that’s what taxes are. As such, one should be cautious about how casually that power is invoked. Father Reese is an ass who is spouting a radically liberal line of BS. Christ never advocated the state taking someone’s property by threatening someone with violence or loss of freedom and the state then giving that property to someone else (who may or may not be deserving). Christ advocated charity – the voluntary donation of your property to the needy. Christ’s teachings are not for Boehner to use the state power at his disposal to force others to give up their property, but for Boehner to use his position to encourage charity. (Now the Catholic church is another matter. The Catholic church has been happy at some points in time to use state power to take property.)

    @Alumni says that no such charities exist because people want to hold on to their money. So Christ says go ahead and take it from them with force? I don’t believe any gospel teaches that. Remember, the origin of this discussion was Father Reese claiming Catholic teachings require Boehner to use state power to take property from some and give it to others – not that simply as a matter of government we need to transfer property from one person to another. I also challenge your assumption that such charities would not exist if the state significantly reduced taxes. There is plenty of data to show that the government form of “charity” is inefficient compared to private charity and, frequently, fail to encourage moral behavior. Private charity is superior. Further, the charitable funds necessary may very well be available if the government did not take so much in taxes. Remember, a majority of those taxes come from those of us who could easily donate more if our taxes were lower – and notwithstanding what you have been indoctrinated to believe, most higher income individuals hold charitable giving as an important obligation.

    Now Omar steps back earlier in the chain of reasoning and claims that the income I earn is not properly mine if I don’t pay taxes or because of unidentified systemic inequalities. First, it’s mine if I earn it with legally and, for me, morally, permissible means. Omar, you need to understand that is my property. The government then takes some of my property in the form of taxes. I never said do not pay taxes. I simply pointed out that taxes represent a significant exercise of state power – taking my property under threat of violence. As such, I do not believe Boehner, as a Catholic, is obligated to exercise that power to the maximum extent he could. In fact, I would argue the opposite and that as a Catholic he is obligated to minimize the exercise of that power and to encourage charity. “Donations” at the point of a gun are not charity.

    Omar also claims it’s okay to take property because of some unidentified “systemic inequalities”. My first response is one I have drilled into my children “Life is not fair.” At heart Omar is claiming that there is some state of affairs that would be “fair” with respect to earning income. I argue that, on the whole, in the US, the system is extraordinarily fair – everyone is given the opportunity to succeed, but some do not grasp that opportunity. Yes, here and there you can point to a “lottery winner” who was handed something, but by and large successful people in the US have worked to obtain what they have. (And by successful, I do not mean “rich” – whatever your definition of “rich” is.) You will find an amazing number of highly successful people in the US who came from very modest to poor backgrounds. There are many less successful people who come from privileged backgrounds. The US system is very fair. The question is are those receiving money from my taxes or my charity deserving? Private charity allows me to ensure that they are deserving – we all know the government programs transfer money to many who are not.

    Again, at base, Father Reese is touting liberal talking points and not Jesus’ teachings.

  12. Or we could just get into a debate about what Matthew 22:21, Render unto Caesar etc., really means. For non-Catholics, Martin Luther’s On Secular Authority offers an argument in favor of obedience to the government in matters like taxes. Ultimately, the Bible yields multiple interpretations, and so these Catholic theologians are offering their opinion of current events in light of what they believe are Jesus’ teachings. Alumni says that opinion is liberal talking points. It’s quite easy to point out that Alumni’s arguments are conservative talking points. For a devout Christian to blindly accept either what Alumni or these theologians would be hypocritical, for each person should arrive at their own understanding of what they believe is the Christian thing to do.

  13. There is nothing sadder than a rich white person bitching about being a rich white person who wants to KEEP IT ALL because rich white people are MORE DESERVING.

  14. “we all know the government programs transfer money to many who are not”

    Lulz lulz lulz Christ hated those welfare queens amiright Reagan? Lulz, how can you talk like that in the face of a financial system that rewards CEO’s whose corporations had to be bailed out by the government (now there’s a great use of tax money). Fuck those kids who think they need health care or food, they can just go to the Salvation Army for their medical, food, clothing, and shelter needs. We all know the poor are just lazy fools sucking off the government tit unlike rich people who earn their trust funds, their SAT preparation classes, their tuition to elite private high schools, their admission to elite colleges (which was a foregone conclusion anyway), their lack of debtload at the end of said college (don’t mind me, I deserve my six digit debt and I’ll probably deserve crippling poverty from that debt), and on and on and on the chain of privilege. Christ loved those guys, right? I remember when he would spit on poor people and tell them that life isn’t fair. Those were the good old days, before we had people like Father Reese trying to make an out-of-control capitalist system whose only success has been widening the gap between rich and poor think just a little about the poor rather than trying to protect the bonuses of CEO’s. Fucking Father Reese and his cry baby liberal heart, always looking at structural inequalities and structural solutions rather than band-aid charity. He’s probably a commie too.

    PS Oooh ah ah ah ah

  15. Rambling thoughts regarding what I’m reading here:

    The whole dichotomy between “liberal” and “conservative” camps in the Roman Catholic Church is entirely unhelpful. It’s even distasteful to divide the Church and her faithful into political spheres, and it’s a total contradiction of what the Church is about to assign the revelations of Scripture and Tradition a particular political camp. It seems to me that the vast majority of folks begin with their political party, and then attempt to fit and form their respective ideologies into and onto the Gospel. It’s a wrongful prioritization. We’ve got to keep things in perspective.

    I mean, bottom line is this: God so loves that He created and creates, became a very part of creation, taught us some awesome stuff regarding the reality of His love and human love while incarnate, suffered for breaking all sorts of religious and cultural conventions, died in a kenotic and fundamentally salvific self-offering, and rose into eternal life, an eternal life into which we are all invited. If Catholics don’t take the person of Jesus Christ as our starting point, something’s profoundly amiss.

    In the words of Fr. James Schall, SJ, “It’s just proof of the Fall and Original Sin.”

    All that being said, Alumni, apart from your obviously poor grasp of Latin (unless you prove to be a committee of people writing, in which case my apologies for the jab) and shoddy spelling, I’m largely in agreement with you. Although, as darkness has a hold on every human heart, and given that we haven’t quite reached the eschaton yet, I remain unconvinced that we need nothing more than private charity to care for the poor and the marginalized of our nation.

  16. @Alumni

    So many errors.

    You say “don’t believe any gospel teaches” that taxation is right. How about Luke 3:12-13, in which Jesus approves the collection of taxes to the extent mandated by the government?

    You say private charity lets you determine that the recipients are deserving. The Gospels don’t espouse only helping the morally upright. Remember “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”?

    You say the U.S. is “extraordinarily fair – everyone is given the opportunity to succeed.” Do you really think someone who attended public school in southeast D.C. had the same opportunity to succeed as someone who attended public school in, say, nearby Fairfax County?

  17. Let’s raise the level of dicourse here, okay? Let’s find consensus, okay? Let’s all agree that Boehner sounds like Boner, which is funny, sort-of.

  18. Proving once again that Jesuits/Catholic Priests are lousy economists and fail to understand that Christ’s message was for Christians to voluntarily help the poor. Government taxes are not voluntary.

    Both liberals and conservatives want to raise everyone’s standard of living. It’s just that conservatives think there’s a better way to do that than through liberal programs that generally don’t help anyone in the end.

    The American free-enterprise, capitalist economic system is absolutely the worst economic system in the world — except for all the others.

  19. I think the point of defending Medicaid and all these social programs helping the poor is that nothing is going to fill the gap once they’re lessened. Alumni, you’re simply wrong if you think, as @Alumni said, charities will pop up out of nowhere to pay sufficient money to support the poor who need healthcare but cannot afford it, or give money to the disabled who cannot work. It’s just not going to have as vast a scale as government help. It won’t help as many people. It won’t do as much good. Private charities may be more efficient in spending the money they have, but they’ll never have as much money as Medicaid or similar programs do, and even if we discount what is lost to bureaucracy, they still can’t compare. Jesus did not hate the idea of taxes, there’s simply nothing of the sort in the bible that implies that.

    And to say Jesus wanted us to voluntarily help the poor, which excludes any form of government help, fundamentally misses the point. It shifts the focus away from the poor and towards ourselves, and that is anything BUT what Jesus taught. It focuses on our own mindset rather than the pain and suffering the poor feel when they don’t have enough and can’t survive themselves. We ought to do everything in our power to serve them, however that might be. Government assistance is the strongest power we have to serve the poor and alleviate their suffering.

    Also, it’s really quite easy to say things are fair when you make it. I say without sarcasm that I’m sure you’ve worked hard in getting to where you are, and that if you hadn’t worked hard you wouldn’t have gotten as far as you have. Still, that does not preclude the possibility that there are factors in your life that enabled your hard work to get you somewhere rather than getting you nowhere at all. And that’s what we’re getting at here. You’re ignorant if you really think that a white kid going to a suburban public school and a black kid going to an inner-city public school working equally as hard will be equally successful.

    That’s the issue, and to have this ridiculous sense of entitlement of whether you deserve your wealth and why others don’t deserve it is totally against Christ’s teaching. You don’t “deserve” anything. Nothing comes to you from your own doing, everything comes from God’s love and gift in your life. That mindset clearly separates you from the poor, such that even if you do give, it’s only to those “deserving” your help. Is that loving your enemy? Is that embracing the sinner, as Christ himself did so often?

  20. I have noticed Republicans who have demonstrated a past of working with Jesuits and even promoting them such as Anne Coulter and her advocacy of Chris Christie… Boehner and his background with Jesuits even appointing a Jesuit as House Chaplin– turn around and become the object of scorn –Anne with her excoriation by Marist and John here– I completely understand the impetus of his point of view and agree with Resse’s initiative– I clearly understand his reasoning..

    however I just cannot help thinking there is an underlying current that earmarks John Roberts nominated Chief Justice at SCOTUS and other Jesuits like Clarence Thomas who was also the object of scorn– when the lion’s share of all branches of Government are clearly controlled by sympathetic –even actual members of the Charge — in an increasingly monolithic political climate — that we have today –is conjecture simply a song and dance act?… because there is literally little that actually happens that the mindset does not promote..

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