“God Wants Middle-Class Entitlements,” Say Catholic Academics

You may have missed the story, but apparently some Roman Catholic academics decided to take Speaker of the House John Boehner to task on the occasion of his visit to the Catholic University of America to give the commencement address earlier this month.

Dozens of professors signed an open letter to Boehner denouncing him for not being sufficiently “progressive.” It reads in part: “Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church‚Äôs most ancient moral teachings. 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.” You can read the full text of the letter at the National Catholic Reporter’s website.

The main piece of evidence offered in support of these allegations is that Boehner voted for Paul Ryan’s budget, which “guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society.” The letter specifically mentions Medicaid, Medicare, and WIC (the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program).

Where to begin?

First, “preferencing the needs of the poor” does not necessarily mean implementing a welfare state. The apostles, to whom the letter appeals, almost certainly envisioned no such thing.

Second, it’s worth remembering that these academics apparently forgot another longstanding principle of Catholic Social Teaching, that of subsidiarity, which holds that policies affecting a population should be formulated and implemented by the jurisdiction closest to that population. In this case, that would be local governments. Why should we think that a one-size-fits-all solution offered by the federal government, a jurisdiction purporting to represent over 300 million people, is the best way to address the needs of the poor?

Third, and from a practical budgetary standpoint this is the most immediate issue, the programs over which these academics are wringing their hands are not exclusively or even dominantly used by “the poor,” unless we take an exceedingly elastic definition of that term. The whole reason this country is going bankrupt is because aid programs cater to the middle class. According to this new poll, 60% of Americans believe Social Security and Medicare are “vital to their basic financial security as they age.” Many of us have known upwardly mobile people and even lottery winners on food stamps or WIC. If there’s ever going to be any hope of salvaging the nation’s finances, programs like this (if they can be kept at all) have to be reformed so that their poster children are really representative of the people who benefit from them.

Would God really object to that?

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About Dr. J

I am an Associate Professor and head of the Department of Humanities at Faulkner University. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy.
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7 Responses to “God Wants Middle-Class Entitlements,” Say Catholic Academics

  1. Victoria says:

    The NCR (or, as Fr. Z. – the blogosphere’s most influential priest – calls it: The Fishwrap) is a notoriously dissident & ultra-liberal publication which should have the designation ‘Catholic’ removed from its title.
    Dissident Catholic theologians/academics have been around for ages and have done irreparable damage to Catholic institutions by convincing bishops & priests/nuns (e.g. hospital administrators) to go along with socialism (really fascism: partnership between the Church & government). Why did the bishops give in to such a disastrous policy? Partly out of ignorance of economic truths & partly out of greed. They are not immune. The result: there is now not one single Catholic hospital in NYC. Their policy has been an unmitigated disaster.
    So, naturally, the NCR calls for more of the same!

  2. Dr. J says:

    I didn’t know the NCR back story; thanks for sharing. On nuns, I’ve heard that some of the orders have really gone down the tubes in the last 30-40 years after having been taken over by radicals.

  3. Victoria says:

    The 60s hit the Church hard: nuns left their convents in droves in order to “find” themselves. The ones who remained ditched their habits in order to wear polyester pants suits. They embraced every kind of goofy, and worse, nonsense. Thankfully, however, in the past 10 years – partly due to our wonderful new Holy Father, and partly due to the fact that the radicals of the 60s are dying off (the biological solution) – there has been a revival in the more traditional orders. The revolution has proved itself sterile; they built nothing, they only destroyed.

  4. Tony Gill says:

    What could be more charitable than taking from one of your neighbors so as to give to another neighbor?

  5. Tony Gill says:

    As for the decline in nuns, it is not surprising that when Vatican said they wanted priests and nuns “to be like everybody else” so as to be more relevant to the world (e.g., wear polyester pantsuits), most potential nuns and priests realized they could be as pious as the clergy while getting married, having kids, and holding down a good job. This isn’t a hard calculation — if you reduce the benefits of being a nun or priest (by telling them they are just like everybody else), but keep the costs just the same (celibacy, vows of poverty), most people will make the easy cost-benefit calculation. It is the more theologically conservative convents and seminaries that still attract people since they promise higher benefits (living the clerical life is noble) at the same costs (celibacy, poverty).

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