Some Catholic Discipline for Paul Ryan

If you’re dubious about my criticism of Paul Ryan’s effort to claim his budget is guided by the Catholic social doctrine of “subsidiarity,” check out this statement just released by a group of 59 Catholic theologians and leaders of charitable organizations:

As Catholic social justice leaders, women religious, priests, theologians and other concerned Catholics, we are deeply troubled that Rep. Paul Ryan – chairman of the House Budget Committee – is defending a budget proposal that makes dangerous cuts to food stamps and other vital protections for the most vulnerable as compatible with the teachings of his Catholic faith. Simply put, this budget is morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good. A budget that turns its back on the hungry, the elderly and the sick while giving more tax breaks to the wealthiest few can’t be justified in Christian terms….

Rep. Ryan claims his budget reflects the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity.” But he profoundly distorts this teaching to fit a narrow political ideology guided by anti-government fervor and libertarian faith in radical individualism. This is anathema to the Catholic social tradition. In fact, ever since Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, Catholic social teaching has recognized a positive role for government and our collective responsibility to care for our neighbors….

We urge Rep. Ryan to reconsider his radical budget proposal and refrain from distorting Church teaching to give moral cover to a budget that fails to live up to our nation’s best values and highest ideals.

As Politico‘s Tim Mak noted in his write-up of the statement: “The signatories include the leadership team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, a women’s Catholic organization, a retired Priest in Ryan’s district, and the former Associate General Secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.” If you scan the list, it also includes a lot of theology professors, who are probably more qualified than Ryan (or obviously, yours truly) to judge whether the principle of “subsdiarity” really dictates abandonment of national responsibility for low-income health care.

And that’s the point. Ryan has every right to promote his budget as a good idea for the country. But let’s spare the crocodile tears for the poor whom he would liberate from “dependence,” and the abuse of social encyclicals to justify libertarian political philosophy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.