Boehner at CUA

House Speaker John Boehner is giving the commencement address at Catholic University of America this Saturday, and the contrast between the reaction (or lack thereof) to his appearance and that of Barack Obama's commencement address at Notre Dame two years ago is notable.Some will of course say that Obama is pro-choice (or other, ahem, labels) and Boehner is "pro-life," or at least against abortion rights. But Boehner is also a Catholic, CUA is the bishops' university, and Boehner's budget proposals have been anything but pro-life. Indeed, the GOP plans would tend to reward the wealthy while cutting programs for the most vulnerable in ways that will lead to unnecessary suffering by the most vulenrable.The bishops themselves set out their criteria for the "moral measure" of the budget debate in a letter to Congress last week.Now more than 70 Catholic theologians, scholars, priests, sisters and social justice leaders have signed a letter pointing out Boehner's variance with church teachings and plan to deliver the letter to Boehners office on Thursday morning along with a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.Michael Sean Winters has a copy of the letter at NCR, and an initial analysis here. Notable about the letter is that the Catholic leaders do not demand that CUA cancel the invitation nor do they engage in any of the ugly hectoring and personal attacks that were deployed against Notre Dame and Obama:

"We congratulate you on the occasion of your commencement address to The Catholic University of America. 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. We write in the hope that this visit will reawaken your familiarity with the teachings of your Church on matters of faith and morals as they relate to governance."

A vain hope?UPDATE: From the New York Times story:

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, responded by e-mail: The Speaker will be delivering a personal, non-political message at the Catholic University of America that he hopes will speak to all members of the graduating class, regardless of their backgrounds or affiliations. He is deeply honored to have been invited by CUA to address the schools graduating class, and is looking forward to receiving an honorary degree from the only Catholic college in our country that is chartered by Catholic bishops.

Odd that you'd invite the third-ranking elected official in the country, and the second-most senior Catholic after Joe Biden, and he wouldn't talk about the very reason he was invited, which is being a Catholic in public life. It would be a shame, in my view, if things had reached the point that Catholics cannot discuss important issues at a Catholic university. That doesn't seem like the idea of a university, Catholic or not.PS: The Times story also includes a link to a student newspaper editorial that brags on the choice, though apparently not so much because it is Boehner but because the university, now under new leadership, is allowing speakers with different points of view to address students:

Many times students have been denied the opportunity to hear government leaders right in their own student center or in classrooms because of an arcane speaker policy. As students in the most powerful city in the nation, in reaching distance of policy makers and national leaders, we should be offered the opportunity to experience ideas on each side of the political spectrum. A good university would offer this chance, and then guide us, and have faith, that their students will make the right decision and choices.

Snagging the third most powerful person in the American government is no small feat for our campus. It is a great accomplishment, one that every student, not only the class of 2011, should be proud of. We hope the choice for Boehner as the commencement speaker will open doors for students to hear from other powerful leaders in government, no matter what the party affiliation. Let this be the beginning of a new era for speakers on campus and for more DC only experiences to come to the University.

Well put. And interesting that Boehner should seem to be benefiting from an open approach that allowed Obama to speak at Notre Dame.

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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