The Corner

When ‘the Catholic Bishops Called the Ryan Budget Immoral’

It didn’t happen. But I just heard it did on MSNBC.

(I promise I won’t do this all night.)

Bishop Stephen Blaire, as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice, Peace and Human Development, criticized specific cuts proposed by Ryan’s budget.

He also said:

A preferential option for the poor would best be realized when the government does not simply dole out moneys that keep people in their limited circumstances, but utilize funds in a way that helps people take responsibility for their lives. The preferential option for the poor doesn’t mean handouts, but how can we invest in strengthening society? What can we do to stimulate the situation, to help people find work?

For example, what do we do to promote family life? The Church is very concerned with the stability of the family. The breakdown of the family has contributed to poverty.

Which happens to echo some things both Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have said. (Mitt in his NAACP speech, Paul in his poverty speech, among others.)

Catholic bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., speaking in Wisconsin in September said: “Congressman Ryan is undoubtedly correct in asserting that the preferential option for the poor, which is a central tenet of Catholic social teaching, does not entail ‘a preferential option for big government.’” Ryan’s critics, Bishop Paprocki said, “fail to appreciate the capaciousness of [the Catholic social doctrine] tradition,” and because of that “they read the tradition in too narrow a fashion . . . [which] can be seen in their selective citation of passages from various Church documents.”

When he introduced his budget, Budget chairman Ryan reached out to Cardinal Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, about it, and how he viewed it in trying to apply Catholic social teaching. Cardinal Dolan wrote at the time:

I deeply appreciate your letter’s assurances of your continued attention to the guidance of Catholic social justice in the current delicate budget considerations in Congress.  As you allude to in your letter, the budget is not just about numbers.  It reflects the very values of our nation.  As many religious leaders have commented, budgets are moral statements.

As is so clear from your correspondence, the light of our faith — anchored in the Bible, the tradition of the Church, and the Natural Law — can help illumine and guide solid American constitutional wisdom.  Thus I commend your letter’s attention to the important values of fiscal responsibility; sensitivity to the foundational role of the family; the primacy of the dignity of the human person and the protection of all human life; a concrete solicitude for the poor and the vulnerable, especially those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty; and putting into practice the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, here at home and internationally within the context of a commitment to the common good shared by government and other mediating institutions alike.

And when Ryan was announced as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential pick, Cardinal Dolan said:

“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.”

Finally, Ryan’s own bishop, has said of the congressman: “He is a very responsible lay Catholic, who understands lay mission and who makes his judgment very much in accord with all the teaching of the Church and he knows how to do that.”

This has been a remarkable general election where we have begun to discuss real moral issues in public policy, with echoes of Jack Kemp as some have commented. “Social justice” is not a Left thing. And Paul Ryan is happy and adept at engaging that unhealthy conventional wisdom. And Catholic bishops encourage those in public life to take moral considerations seriously as they legislate. 

When you hear someone say, as I expect someone will again before the night is through, that the Catholic bishops called Paul Ryan’s budget immoral, know that’s not quite the story. 

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