A Reckless and Unjust Accusation
The accusation made by a group of Catholic academics in their open letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner is a grave one, and should be made only after careful reflection. They charge that the voting record of the Speaker, a serious Catholic, contradicts Catholic teaching. Moreover, they imply that Catholic University of America’s honoring Speaker Boehner was morally equivalent to Notre Dame’s honoring the radically pro-abortion President Obama. Both claims are so ludicrous they amount to calumny.
The academics describe the budget cuts to WIC and Maternal and Child health grants in the proposed House budget as “particularly cruel.” But the proposal is to trim those budgets — not to eliminate or “gut” them. Moreover, those programs may presently provide aid to some who are not truly in need, or in some cases overlap with other assistance programs.
The academics describe the proposed structural change to Medicare as “effectively end[ing] it.” But the House’s budget proposal on Medicare is designed, not to end it, but to restructure it in order to save it. One might disagree with the House budget’s approach regarding the means by which to provide safety nets for the poor or elderly, but to move from that disagreement to an accusation that the Speaker opposes helping the vulnerable is sheer demagoguery.
Since the charge of these academics is so serious, let us see what argument they should have made to support it. They should have started with the following two propositions which are true for all Catholics:
1. As a political community we have a special duty to help those unable to help themselves, i.e., the disabled, poor, and vulnerable.
2. People in groups affected by the programs whose budgets are proposed to be decreased, or are proposed to be re-structured, are in need, unable to help themselves, or unable to help themselves sufficiently.
But, then the academics should have provided the evidence to support the following two claims, which they did not. In fact, they begged these questions entirely.
1. Continuing to fund those programs at least at the present level, and in their present structure, is consistent with other equally serious moral responsibilities that we have as a political community, including our special responsibilities to the disabled, poor, and vulnerable.
2. The best way for us as a political community to help these groups is by continuing to fund those programs at least at the present level and in their present structure.
Since they provided no evidence, these academics, in justice, should withdraw their accusations and formally apologize to Speaker Boehner.
Further, the implication of moral equivalence between Notre Dame’s honoring a pro-abortion president and CUA’s honoring Speaker Boehner is confusing and harmful. The whole point of budget proposals these days is to head off an economic disaster that would especially injure the poor, disabled, and vulnerable among us.
It is unconscionable to place on the same moral plane such proposals of budgetary and administrative changes, on the one hand, with policies aimed at denying protection of the law to a whole class of vulnerable human beings — unborn human beings — and other policies aimed even at funding the killing of them, on the other hand.
The first issue concerns the question of what programs will best help the poor and vulnerable. The second issue concerns the central principle of our civilization—one taught in the Gospel and re-affirmed with clarity and full authority by the Catholic Church. This principle is that all human beings possess an equal fundamental dignity, and no class of human beings can with justice enslave, use, experiment on, or deliberately kill other innocent human beings for their own purposes.
For a Catholic institution, such as Notre Dame, to honor someone who is on the wrong side on the latter issue is to betray the core of what this institution should stand for. To defame Speaker of the House John Boehner for allegedly opposing Church teaching on the former issue, based on a fatuous argument, is a calumny.
By Patrick Lee, McAleer Professor of Bioethics and Director, Institute of Bioethics Franciscan University of Steubenville