The Catholic controversy about the Paul Ryan budget

posted at 5:26 pm on April 13, 2012 by Tina Korbe

Politically active progressive Catholics never expected this. They expected “Catholic social teaching” to be their trump card in every political debate — the magic phrase they uttered to somehow shame conservative Catholics into supporting this or that liberal initiative. What business did Paul Ryan have to use “Catholic social teaching” to justify his ideas?

Yet, that’s exactly what he has done. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network released Tuesday, Ryan said Catholic social teaching informed the thought that went into his controversial budget proposal. Politico reports:

Ryan said that the principle of subsidiarity — a notion, rooted in Catholic social teaching, that decisions are best made at most local level available — guided his thinking on budget planning.

“To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society … where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good,” Ryan said.

The Wisconsin Republican said that he also drew on Catholic teachings regarding concern for the poor, and his interpretation of how that translated into government policy.

“[T]he preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence,” said Ryan.

Predictably, some of the aforementioned progressive Catholics are pretty upset about his comments:

Nearly 60 progressive Catholic leaders released a statement Friday, condemning Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s assertion that his budget proposal was shaped by his Catholic faith.

“When a high-profile Catholic congressman is mangling church teachings, that should be challenged,” John Gehring, Catholic Outreach Coordinator for Faith in Public Life, the organization that put together the statement, told POLITICO.

I agree! When a high-profile Catholic congressman is mangling church teachings, that should be challenged! That goes for Catholic congresswomen, too — and it doesn’t get any more high profile in the House of Representatives than the position of Speaker. So, I’m assuming John Gehring was as outraged as I was when Nancy Pelosi said she’s bothered by the fact that Catholics have that “conscience thing.”

More to the point, though, what does Catholic social teaching say about budgeting and economics? Is Paul Ryan “mangling” church teachings? Catholic Online’s Keith Fournier offers a helpful primer in social doctrine as outlined by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the “Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace,” in the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.” Here’s a little bit of what Fournier has to say:

The social doctrine offers principles to help us order our economies. It does not propose any particular economic theory. It insists that every economic order be at the service of the human person, human freedom, human flourishing and the family. We are to give a love of preference to the poor, recognizing our solidarity with them. However, this call to solidarity is to be applied through the application of the principle of subsidiarity, rejecting all forms of dehumanizing collectivism, either of the left or the right.

The market economy has been affirmed in recent social teaching - when properly understood and morally structured. However, the Catholic Church stood against the materialism of the atheistic Marxist system and now properly cautions Nations which have adopted a form of liberal capitalism of the dangers of “economism” or materialism which promotes the use of persons as products and fails to recognize the value of being over acquiring.

Does the sincere attempt to understand and apply Catholic social doctrine lead inexorably to support for the Paul Ryan budget? Not necessarily. (I would argue that it does lead inexorably to a rejection of abortion.) The point is, social doctrine is not a political prescription; it’s a framework for thinking about the ordering of society. Paul Ryan was right to consider it as he crafted his budget — and Catholics are right to consider it as they contemplate his budget. What’s not particularly faithful is reducing our social doctrine to mere politics, instead of seeking to elevate our politics to the level of social doctrine, the principles of which, strictly speaking, are not particularly Catholic or even religious, but reflective of a desire for human flourishing.


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To liberals, religion is simply a tool to destroy opposition.

pat on April 13, 2012 at 5:28 PM

Progressivism in incompatible with religion. Man is his own God.

Who are these jokers trying to kid here.

forest on April 13, 2012 at 5:32 PM

So, I’m assuming John Gehring was as outraged as I was when Nancy Pelosi said she’s bothered by the fact that Catholics have that “conscience thing.”

No, that won’t happen. As usual, progressive “outrage” is highly selective in what to be ‘outraged’ about.

Oh, and Gehring, don’t trip over the hypocrisy on your way out.

GarandFan on April 13, 2012 at 5:32 PM

Did you know that there is actually a catholic Cardinal named Marx? And yes, he wrote a book called “Das Kapital”.

Valkyriepundit on April 13, 2012 at 5:33 PM

he principles of which, strictly speaking, are not particularly Catholic or even religious, but should forever be reflective of a desire for human flourishing.

Just thought I’d add that on for good will.

OkieDoc on April 13, 2012 at 5:34 PM

Picture of the Day: If Obama Had A Son, He Would Not Look Like Trayvon

http://predicthistunpredictpast.blogspot.com/2012/04/picture-of-day-if-obama-had-son-he.html

Resist We Much on April 13, 2012 at 5:37 PM

Ahhh, religion and economics. The mixture is fascinating.

Look, liberals always blather on about how Jesus was a communist or something. Which is true to the extent that Jesus recommended communal living of a sort–for people able to actually follow the REST of Jesus’ commandments.

You know, all that stuff about not envying and consecrating everything to God and turning the other cheek, etc. Once you have a population that does that, then indeed a communal society probably works.

The numerous examples of such societies and how long they last testify to the high level of personal religious effort it takes on everyone’s part.

So failing the unlikely prospect of all of us actually following all of Christ’s commandments in the Sermon on the Mount, capitalism is the best bet.

Vanceone on April 13, 2012 at 5:37 PM

So these progressive Catholics want to be so charitable to the poor…they just don’t want to use their own money to do the charity work. Other people’s money will do just fine.

Bitter Clinger on April 13, 2012 at 5:39 PM

Funny, especially considering how many of these progressive Catholics barely believe in the religion they “practice”.

Sammo21 on April 13, 2012 at 5:42 PM

This is another example where we have let the left control the language and definitions. Hurray for Ryan to push back and reclaim some territory. We need to continue to push back. Praises to all who pushed back against Rosen. The left expects us to roll over and take it. See the panic at the WH when folks rose up and denounced Rosen. Keep it going.

yongoro on April 13, 2012 at 5:44 PM

I roll my eyes at these progressive outreach groups that say they are Catholic when they contradict so much of Catholic teaching.

JAM on April 13, 2012 at 5:46 PM

Ryan, corrupt, crazy pelsoi and the lunatic-left Catholics = “progressive” hypocrisy on display.

TeaPartyNation on April 13, 2012 at 5:46 PM

Did you know that there is actually a catholic Cardinal named Marx? And yes, he wrote a book called “Das Kapital”.

Valkyriepundit on April 13, 2012 at 5:33 PM

Karl was an avowed Athiest.

RickB on April 13, 2012 at 5:54 PM

Nutzi Pelosi is a devout Catholic. I am sure she’s going to change her large-central-gov’t ways after being made aware of the Principle of Subsidiarity.

Count on it.

CycloneCDB on April 13, 2012 at 5:56 PM

Did you know that there is actually a catholic Cardinal named Marx? And yes, he wrote a book called “Das Kapital”.

Valkyriepundit on April 13, 2012 at 5:33 PM

The left – now just making $#!T up as they go along…

CycloneCDB on April 13, 2012 at 5:57 PM

Resist We Much on April 13, 2012 at 5:37 PM

sputter, spew and spit…
And if he’d have twins it would be The Mini-Me-Me-Me’s.

OkieDoc on April 13, 2012 at 5:58 PM

“When a high-profile Catholic congressman is mangling church teachings, that should be challenged,” John Gehring, Catholic Outreach Coordinator for Faith in Public Life, the organization that put together the statement, told POLITICO.

This guy better start changing that mangled Wikipedia page:

Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority…The word subsidiarity is derived from the Latin word subsidiarius and was first described formally in Catholic social teaching .[1] The concept or principle is found in several constitutions around the world (for example, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which asserts States rights and further, the rights of the people).

RadClown on April 13, 2012 at 6:11 PM

Did you know that there is actually a catholic Cardinal named Marx? And yes, he wrote a book called “Das Kapital”.

Valkyriepundit on April 13, 2012 at 5:33 PM

Karl was an avowed Athiest.

RickB on April 13, 2012 at 5:54 PM

Valkyrie is talking about Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

J.S.K. on April 13, 2012 at 6:11 PM

The left – now just making $#!T up as they go along…

CycloneCDB on April 13, 2012 at 5:57 PM

Nope, I dont like it, but its actually true.

Valkyriepundit on April 13, 2012 at 6:13 PM

The obligation of a precept is not opposed to liberty, except in one whose mind is averted from that which is prescribed, as may be seen in those who keep the precepts through fear alone. But the precept of love cannot be fulfilled save of one’s own will, wherefore it is not opposed to charity.

By the way. “progressive Catholics” are blatantly heretical by their own definition.

Marcus Traianus on April 13, 2012 at 6:44 PM

Really great post Tina.

KickandSwimMom on April 13, 2012 at 6:45 PM

Nope, I dont like it, but its actually true.

Valkyriepundit on April 13, 2012 at 6:13 PM

Has the book been translated into English and have you read it?

I always cringe when I read/hear about Catholic organizations with “social justice” or “peace” attached to the title. A lot of it is unrealistic, utopian talk with an agenda or two involved.

The Church seems to be evolving on these issues, positively in my view, but the problem for them is that everyone has a pet cause and needs money for that cause.

Simplicity and honesty in religious culture would go a long way towards bringing more people into the flock.

Vince on April 13, 2012 at 7:20 PM

Since the Catholic bishops ceased teaching and governing from principles about 50 years ago, “Catholic” can mean anything one wants it to mean.

senrex on April 13, 2012 at 7:33 PM

And this conservative Catholic suddenly has another reason to like Paul Ryan!

Mr. Prodigy on April 13, 2012 at 7:45 PM

Has the book been translated into English and have you read it?

Vince on April 13, 2012 at 7:20 PM

My sister is married to a german catholic and he read parts of the book to me. I cant say if he chose the most anti-capitalist parts or if the book is like that from cover to cover, but what I heard baffled me.

Valkyriepundit on April 13, 2012 at 8:10 PM

NAME the 59 and it would soon become obvious they are the “Socialist Justice” crowd that has worked to corrupt the Catholic church with Socialism since 1918

mathewsjw on April 13, 2012 at 8:23 PM

By the way. “progressive Catholics” are blatantly heretical by their own definition.

Marcus Traianus on April 13, 2012 at 6:44 PM

Progressive Catholic is an oxymoron.

LizardLips on April 13, 2012 at 8:33 PM

Clearly Ryan is developing a program from the Catholic concept of Distributism. Made popular by Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc it has its true origins in Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum.It is an oft misrepresented concept that joins social responsibility of individuals and government, locally owned manufactures, and individual liberty. I’ve, in researching it, only scratched the tiniest surface. Ryan has gone fully into the concept and his detractors had better be prepared if they want to debate him.

xkaydet65 on April 13, 2012 at 8:35 PM

When progressives of no-matter-what-stripe bitch and moan about something – that something is something I invariably support. I am a Catholic and these progressives really give catholicism a bad name.

Fuquay Steve on April 13, 2012 at 9:05 PM

Since the Catholic bishops ceased teaching and governing from principles about 50 years ago, “Catholic” can mean anything one wants it to mean.

senrex on April 13, 2012 at 7:33 PM

…works for Nancy Pelosi.

KOOLAID2 on April 13, 2012 at 9:49 PM

Subsidiarity is how freedom of conscience and government (or capitalism) become completely compatible with each other. Subsidiarity allows a thousand flowers to bloom, so that if one flower doesn’t match your conscience, you’ll be able to find one that does. It’s the opposite of the top-down jam-down government that Obama likes.

RBMN on April 14, 2012 at 10:11 AM