Bishops teach Paul Ryan a faith-based lesson
Dana Milbank email@example.com April 27, 2012 3:04PM
Updated: May 30, 2012 8:18AM
There is something un-Christian about the Gospel According to Paul Ryan. So says Ryan’s Catholic Church.
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody this month, Ryan, the author of the House Republican budget endorsed by Mitt Romney, said his program was crafted “using my Catholic faith” as inspiration. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was not about to bless that claim.
A week after Ryan’s boast, the bishops sent letters to Congress saying the Ryan budget, passed by the House, “fails to meet” the moral criteria of the church, namely its view that any budget should help “the least of these” as the Christian Bible requires: the poor, hungry, homeless and jobless.
“A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons,” the bishops wrote.
In fact, Ryan would cut spending on the least of these by about $5 trillion over 10 years — from Medicaid, food stamps, welfare and the like — then award some $4 trillion in tax cuts to the most of these. To their credit, Catholic leaders were not about to let Ryan claim to be serving God when, in fact, he was serving mammon.
“Your budget,” a group of Jesuit scholars and other Georgetown University faculty members wrote to Ryan, “appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.”
Ryan didn’t turn the other cheek. He delivered a scheduled lecture Thursday at Georgetown, saying faculty members would benefit from a “fact-based conversation” on the issue.
From the balcony, young demonstrators answered Ryan by holding up a banner with the message “Stop the War on the Poor: No Social Justice in Ryan’s Budget.”
For the young chairman of the House Budget Committee, it was a timely lesson: However much Ryan may wish it, God does not take sides in politics. Ryan, transparently positioning himself to be Romney’s running mate, may believe he is on a mission from God. But in a democracy, such fanaticism makes people like Ryan unable to compromise.
The rebuke of Ryan is a credit to the Catholic leadership because they are displaying their doctrinal consistency, even as politicians embrace church teachings selectively. Republicans hailed the Catholic bishops when they opposed the Obama administration’s policy to expand contraceptive coverage; likewise, they cite the church’s opposition to abortion. But these same lawmakers have little interest in the church’s position against the death penalty or its opposition to the Arizona immigration law.
The bishops, in opposing Ryan’s budget, called for “shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues.” But Ryan challenged the theologians’ theology. “The holy father himself, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities and individuals running up high debt levels are, quote, ‘living at the expense of future generations,’ ” he said.
Ryan argued that government welfare “dissolves the common good of society and it dishonors the dignity of the human person.” He would restore human dignity by removing anti-poverty programs.
The moderator asked Ryan about “the moral dimension” of a budget that gives tax cuts to the wealthy and cuts spending for the poor. His answer included the phrase “subchapter S corporations.”
Spending on programs such as food stamps and college Pell Grants is “unsustainable,” he said. If government does too much for the poor, “you make it harder” for churches and charities to do it.
It was a bold economic — and theological — proposition. Even Jesus said to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Ryan would rather give the rich a tax cut.
Dana Milbank is a columnist with
the Washington Post Writers Group.