The first time Timothy Cardinal Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, met Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan, the congressman was talking about St. Thomas Aquinas. Cardinal Dolan reminisced about the meeting and their subsequent friendship and correspondence during his Sirius Catholic Channel radio show Thursday.
The meeting took place at Carthage College, a Lutheran school in Kenosha, Wisc., Dolan, then bishop of Milwaukee, was there to receive an honorary degree; Ryan, a fourth-term congressman, was the commencement speaker that year.
“He gave — I timed it — nine minutes, which is excellent, on St. Thomas Aquinas,” recalled Cardinal Dolan, who himself tends to give concise homilies. “It was tremendous, in front of a Lutheran audience,” the cardinal remembered. “So we really started up a great correspondence and got to know each other very, very well.”
“We go way back, Congressman Paul Ryan and I,” the cardinal continued. “I came to know and admire him immensely. And I would consider him a friend. He and his wife Janna and their three kids have been guests in my house; I’ve been a guest at their house. They’re remarkably upright, refreshing people. And he’s a great public servant.”
Dolan stressed that he was “speaking personally and not from a partisan point of view. . . . But I have immense regard and admiration and affection for him, just personally.” Dolan added that he is “happy” his friend has the “honor” of being on a national ticket.
In his first solo outing this week, Ryan met hecklers criticizing him for policies they believe are against the “common good.” This summer, his budget was criticized on a bus tour by politically active liberal religious sisters, one of whom is on the verge of becoming a talking-head-show regular through Election Day. In his own show, taped Tuesday afternoon and aired Thursday afternoon, Cardinal Dolan acknowledged that Ryan has his critics, but commended the congressman for his efforts to tackle the federal budget deficit.
He recalled exchanges they have had about the Ryan budget plan (exchanges that National Review Online first reported on last May) and paraphrased Ryan:
He did say, “I bristle when any Catholic politician who dares to suggest that we need to get our fiscal house in order, that we need to balance the budget, that we need to show some frugality and restraint, is automatically branded as anti-poor. . . . I am passionate about the poor. That, too, comes from my religious conviction. . . . Nobody suffers more from runaway deficits and a poor economy than the poor. And the best way we can help the poor is by getting our financial house in order — meaning jobs will go up, employment will go up, and they’ll be helped.”
Cardinal Dolan summed up his end of the exchange, saying: “And I wrote back and said, ‘You’ve got a good point.’ ‘And,’ I said, ‘let me applaud some of the things you are doing, namely your call for financial accountability and restraint and a balanced budget . . . and . . . let me also applaud your obvious solicitude for the poor.”
“Once again it comes down to that prudential judgment. How are we going to do it?” Dolan stressed that he was “not trying to be an apologist” for Ryan:
He and I had a good, heated conversation and I offered some criticism which he was gracious in accepting. . . . [Ryan said he believes it is] “probably time to ask a big question . . . whether so-called entitlement programs are the best way to help the poor. . . . I’m for the entitlement programs. We always have to have a vigorous safety net. But if we don’t do something to save them, our huge entitlement programs, like Medicare and Social Security” — to which he is committed, by the way — “are going to flounder. So I’m kind of the only one saying what we’ve got to do to save them. Please don’t say to me that I’m the one about to undo them. Actually, if we don’t do this, they’re going to be undone.”
So I admire him. He’s honest. He’s refreshing. Do I agree with everything? No, but . . . I’m anxious to see him in action.