Ryan’s Clash with Catholic Teachings

Republican vice presidential choice Paul Ryan calls himself a devout Catholic, but his right-wing politics would divert more wealth to the rich at the expense of the poor, the opposite of both the teachings of Jesus and the recommendations of the Vatican, notes Catholic ethicist Daniel C. Maguire.

By Daniel C. Maguire

Sound the alarm! There has been a Catholic coup d’etat in the United States of America! Six members of the Supreme Court are Catholics (just imagine the furor if six were Muslims or Jews!). Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell are Catholics. And now, rising to top of this surging Catholic dynasty is the alleged Wunderkind of Republican economics, perky Paul Ryan.

Ryan wears his strange version of Catholicism with a jaunty sophomoric pride: “Catholic social doctrine is indispensable for officeholders.” If only Paul Ryan knew what “Catholic social doctrine” is he would take flight from it just as fast as he is scrambling from the Ayn Rand breasts that, as he has proclaimed, suckled him and inspired all his political and economic views.

Rep. Paul Ryan, with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, speaking to a crowd in New Hampshire. (Photo credit: mittromney.com)

Catholics who know the difference between Jesus Christ and Ayn Rand skewered perky Paul. They know that Jesus’ mission, unlike Ayn Rand’s, was “good news for the poor” (Luke 4:18). They embarrassed the righteous Ryan when he spoke at the Jesuit Georgetown University carrying a sprawling sign that asked: “Where were you, Paul Ryan, when they crucified the poor?”

Of course they know where he was. He was driving the nails into everything that helps the poor and remember most of “the poor” are children. Budgets are intensely moral documents. They show where the heart is. To budget-makers we can say: show me the losers and the winners and I will tell you what you are.

The Ryan budget plan, embraced by Mitt Romney as “marvelous,” puts greed over need. Among its losers: Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, health insurance, preschool programs, environmental and financial regulations, Pell grants, Head Start, mortgage guarantees. “Are there no poor houses?”

The budget is not all sour. There are sweet tidings for the already engorged mega-rich. And as for the military, ah, yes, the military, Ryan feels they do not ask enough though they have never been known for modesty or timidity in their requests. Ryan would further feed that black hole in the economy that already sucks out some $2 million a minute. Kill-power is prized more highly than Head Start and Medicaid.

How Dare You, Paul Ryan!

How dare you invoke “Catholic social teaching” to bolster that warped and brutal vision! Had you presented that budget as an assignment in my theology class at Marquette University I would have had to give you an F and a note would go to your parents saying, “this student is wasting your tuition money.”

So, listen up, Paul, and I’ll show you why the “Nuns on the Bus” and Catholic university faculties are storming against your Catholic pretensions. It is no major undertaking to correct you. That’s why your ignorance must be classified as crass.

Just last year, in October 2011, Pope Benedict’s Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace gave all the help you need. The council summed up centuries of “Catholic social teaching” in a single document and applied it to today’s tottering global economy.

When asked about the document, you equivocated about whether you had read it. Clearly, from your recent utterances you either did not read it or you read it and trashed it. Small wonder. It would give Ayn Rand a stroke. Jesuit Thomas Reese said the document is “closer to the view of Occupy Wall Street that anyone in the U.S. Congress.”

Catholic Social Teaching 101

Here it is in gist: The Vatican document supports fair taxation, greed-controlling regulation and bailouts “with public funds” when necessary. Now, brace yourself, Paul, it excoriates “neoliberals,” the greed-is-good creed of your right wing.

The document calls for an international solidarity that would end poverty and obsessive reliance on military violence for security. It calls for more active citizenship, not voter suppression. Internationally it calls for “a new model of a more cohesive, polyarchic international society that respects every people’s identity within the multifaceted riches of a single humanity.”

It calls for a “public, supranational authority with universal jurisdiction, a “true world political authority” and a “world bank” to preside over a “global, universal common good.” Nations need to “transfer a part of each nation’s powers to a world authority and to regional authorities.”

It does not call for a tyrannical despotic world authority. The traditional Catholic tradition of “subsidiarity” means that nothing should be done by a higher authority that can be done by active participation at lower levels. Right-wingers like you grab that one word “subsidiarity” and claim it supports their maniacal hatred of government. It doesn’t.

The document, like the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, considers government the prime care-taker of the common good with a particular mission to protect the powerless and the poor from exploitation.

Catholic social teaching abhors despotism, either that of governments or that of corporate power that can enslave the poor of the world as it is now doing. The blood, sweat and tears of the poor are on our clothing, our shoes and on our iPads. Using what is cynically and euphemistically called “labor arbitrage,” corporations ship most of their work to slave operations in “the third world.”

Now at this point, my student, Paul Ryan, is squirming in his seat. What I had just taught, relying on papal teachings, is not right wing. It is left wing in as much as the Left stresses social justice and fair distribution of wealth and opportunity, and the Left has a preference for peace-power over kill-power.

So, Paul Ryan, call your knavish, mean-spirited budget plan what you will. But do not call it Catholic. Stop defaming and insulting the stirring compassion and richness of Catholic social teaching by associating it with your form of upper-class warfare.

Have you no shame!

Daniel C. Maguire is a Professor of Moral Theology at Marquette University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is author of A Moral Creed for All Christians. He can be reached at [email protected]. (This article originally appeared as a blog post at HuffingtonPost.)

28 comments for “Ryan’s Clash with Catholic Teachings

  1. Robert Charron
    August 23, 2012 at 16:15

    Fr. Maguire is absolutely right. As a conservative/traditional Catholic I disagree with him on a lot of things but he is expounding solid Catholic teaching here. The Catholic Church composed of fallible humans has not always lived up to its teachings on social justice but it has never denied the teaching. Now the Catholic Church does not believe in obtaining social justice by violent means. Revolutions have been disasters for social justice. Many don’t recognize this and want perfection today. The Church is there for the long haul. I feel Catholics like Paul Ryan, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell are as much an embarrassment to the Church as Catholics, as Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and Leon Panetta. Roses to Daniel Maguire.

  2. Hillary
    August 23, 2012 at 10:16

    Pope Sixtus V issued a papal Bull in 1589 which approved the recruitment of castrati for the choir of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

    Most of the castrations occurred on boys between the ages of 7 and 9 years who were generally drugged with opium. They were soaked in a hot tub until barely conscious before the operation.

    One source estimates that the fatality rate due to the amputation procedure was about 80%. Another estimates a death rate of 10 to 80% depending upon the skill of the practitioner.

    • bobzz
      August 23, 2012 at 11:08

      Now that could be, but that was a long time ago, and not concerned with the current Pope.

  3. Tom
    August 23, 2012 at 00:50

    Ditto…the church has railed against pornography for decades. I’d demand an official document and not something either cherry-picked or quoted way out of context.

  4. bobzz
    August 22, 2012 at 23:38

    I am not a Catholic, but I sincerely doubt that the Pope said what the Belfast Telegraph reported. I would have to see it in an official Catholic document before I accept this. I do not believe everything I read, even about those with whom I disagree. Sometimes, you make sense Rehmat, but most of the time your bias is just overwhelming. Here is something to think about. Christianity grows out of Biblical Israel, but without Biblical Israel and Christianity, there would be no Islam. I’ve been rather chatty today, so I shall leave it here.

    • bobzz
      August 23, 2012 at 18:09

      “I know I will be talking to a 10-ft thick Wailing Wall – if I say Christianity was born in Rome (325 AD) and not Palestine.”

      Is that irony, or do you really, honestly, truly, cross your heart believe that? If so, call me the wailing wall, and make it 15 ft. thick—no offense meant to Jews.

  5. Hillary
    August 22, 2012 at 19:12

    “Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that!”

    If so where is it ?

    Religion is wish-fulfillment; it offers up the “figure of an enormously exalted father” who reassures us as our own fathers did.

    The infallible and omnipotent father in heaven assures us that there is meaning and purpose in life and that all will be well in the end.

    Religion enables us to retain our status as children throughout our lives.

    Religion, according to the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), is an exercise in mass delusion and serves mainly to keep people in a state of psychological infantilism.

    Religion is wish-fulfillment; it offers up the “figure of an enormously exalted father” who reassures us as our own fathers did.

    The infallible and omnipotent father in heaven assures us that there is meaning and purpose in life and that all will be well in the end.

    Religion enables us to retain our status as children throughout our lives.

    • bobzz
      August 22, 2012 at 21:49

      Oh, c’mon Hillary, you can do better than this:) Don’t cite a lightweight like Freud. A much better critique of the God illusion in the spirit of Freud, but also falls short, is Ludwig Feuerbach’s (pronounced foi`-er-bach), The Essence of Christianity. The thing about skeptical philosophers, psychiatrists, etc., is that they build non-evidentiary models in the sky—you know, like the sky god.
      Look, here is the challenge for skeptics. Well, an illustration first: when the church thought the sun circled the earth, Copernicus and Galileo presented a scientific refutation that everyone acknowledges today.
      OK, now the challenge: we’ll stick with the New Testament. First, the NT is a collection of writings from the first century that speak of God, Christ, the Spirit, the apostles, the church, etc. The question of inerrancy or inspiration is irrelevant here. The point is that they are real historical documents, and they are evidence. Second, the church is a historical reality that goes back to the first century. That also is evidence.
      THE question, and it is a legitimate one: how does one account for the origin of the church? The NT proclaims that the resurrection was her generative event. If skeptics want to effectively eliminate Christianity in the minds of everyone, all they have to do is present a convincing alternative to the resurrection account for the appearance of the church. The usual knit-picking, ad hominem, philosophical rebuttals of Christianity will not do the job. Until skeptics can present that convincing alternative, Christianity will continue. I am not even asking them to “prove” that the Christian story is a fairy tale in the same way Copernicus and Galileo proved the earth circled the sun. Just write a convincing alternative. Skeptics have had two millennia to do it, and it has not been done yet.
      This has gone on long enough, but I must address the humorous ad hominem argument that if anyone believes the resurrection, they will believe anything. Well, I accept the scientific verdict about evolution, old universe, climate change due to human activity—anything that is supported by rigorous application of the scientific method. Now, because I believe the resurrection to be a real historical event, am I wrong about evolution?

      • Hillary
        August 23, 2012 at 07:43

        “Now, because I believe the resurrection to be a real historical event, am I wrong about evolution? ”

        bobzz on August 22, 2012 at 9:49 pm

        Because you believe the resurrection to be a real historical event you will probably believe anything.

        Apparently 2 BILLION Holy Roman Catholics also believe and celebrate the Virgin mother of their “God” being taken bodily to “Heaven”.

        You are right about scientific evolution which has no connection with your “historical event” except that so many people who agree with you have not yet evolved sufficiently to recognize a rumor when they hear it.

        • bobzz
          August 23, 2012 at 11:06

          Assertions without evidence, Hillary. When you can produce an alternative to the Christian story, an alternative that accounts for the rise of the church, motive, etc., the world will praise you, me included. Just a couple of things you will have to explain: how did belief in the bodily resurrection arise when Greek culture did not think the flesh was worth saving? Dying and rising gods do not address that question. Resurrection was a part of the Jewish faith, but it is supposed to be in the end time—not by one man before the end. So, how did the resurrection become accepted despite the fact that it ran against strong currents That’s just for starters.
          You missed my point: of course evolution is not disconnected with the resurrection. What I intended to show was that in accepting the verdicts of science, it would mean I don’t” just believe anything” because I accept the resurrection. But if it makes good boilerplate for you, keep it going.
          Finally, I am not a Catholic. The assumption of Mary is not a NT doctrine, so I do not accept it and am not called to defend it.
          We agree that political liberals are better for America in the long run but we’ll agree to disagree (amicably) on religion. I do respect your opinion even as I disagree.

  6. Morton Kurzweil
    August 22, 2012 at 18:16

    The real question is why is Catholicism involved in the politics of the United States? Neither Jesus or Muhammad had a thought about universal rights of all people. The patriarchal religions represented an elite to control behavior through fear and coercion. Separation of church and state is a modern concept designed tho serve the people who held the power to govern themselves. The elite cults are attempting to return that power to themselves. That is called the trickle down theory. The elite rule by divine authority and through them God’s largess of food and knowledge trickles down to the oppressed.
    Bush called his stolen elections a divine mandate. Romney and Ryan claim their authority based on religious dogma.
    Morality and ethics in the Supreme Court and Congress has become a matter of religious conviction.
    The accepted values of a cult are not superior to the universal inalienable rights of all the people.

    • bobzz
      August 22, 2012 at 20:54

      Agree: Religion has no business in politics. The church of the first two centuries had nothing to do with politics. Politics is about state power. The apostolic church was about persuasion. Disagree: Jesus was and is about freedom from sin, an old fashion word. He coerces/coerced no one. If everyone loved God and neighbor, we would not need government at all. We humans will, however, follow our own ways, living in fear and insecurity (by the way, that includes the religious right), which provokes lying, manipulation, violence, etc. God oppresses no one although he does administer justice to those that oppress. It is man that oppresses his fellow man and the natural creation, not God.

      • Tom
        August 23, 2012 at 00:45

        Because religious traditions carry in themselves moral values and principoles it’s kind of difficult to argue that “religion has no place in politics”. If politics is somehow some “value-free” or “principle-free: art – which some on Wall Street and their congressional tenders might have -religion will always play some role in politics. The issue is what role and in a secular state while there is no state religion there is also no value or principle free politics.

        • bobzz
          August 23, 2012 at 10:30

          I should have said Christianity (Biblically understood, not religion in general) has no “direct” role to play in politics, indirect, yes. Pagans criticized the early church precisely because she would have nothing to do with office holding, the military, or citizen celebrations of empire. In that, they followed Jesus who clearly eschewed realpolitik when tempted by Satan. Had the early church blended into the culture of civil religion, the way they did beginning with Constantine, Rome would not have persecuted them. Conversely, if Christians today lived as did the early church, persecution would arise. Christianity is only free of persecution from the state today because we worship the same gods as the state: materialism, hedonism, power, exceptionalism, etc.

    • bobzz
      August 22, 2012 at 23:14

      Scripture teaches that only God is Lord. I have no idea what you mean by the Bible teaches a “split life.” And we all fall short of the will of God, Jews, Christians, and yes, Muslims too.

      • bobzz
        August 23, 2012 at 10:40

        I read it all the time. Jesus allows Caesars to go their own way because the state is always about coercion. Some coercion is good as in law enforcement. But some state denigrate their own citizens. The Arab spring is all about rising against Islamic dictators that the US pays off to do their bidding, and their corruption has denigrated its own citizens. This is what happens when religion mixes with state power. If this is what you mean by a “split,” I agree with you, but if you think this kind of split is evil, I disagree.

    • Ellen
      August 23, 2012 at 04:50

      “All forms of oppression”? What about the treatament of women? This horrible situation discredits any religion that fosters it.

  7. bobzz
    August 22, 2012 at 17:59

    All I know is that Ayn Rand differs from the prophets—markedly so, and Ryan sides with Rand, Catholicism aside. The trend over the last 35 years has been a shrinking middle class and an increase of the poor. Workers cannot help it if government fails to use tariffs to protect their workers and CEOs export good paying jobs. Profit is Caesar. Eight years of Bush tax cuts produced a net zero of jobs, yet we think tax cuts is the solution. Most of the jobs produced in his economy were of the burger flipping variety, shrinking the tax base. The 35% tax rate on business is no factor in failing to hire. Corporate loopholes enables them to pay greatly reduced taxes, avoid taxes altogether, or even get tax refunds. The rich are hoarding those tax cuts in Cayman Island clearing houses to the tune of $20-30 trillion. If Romney is elected (a conflict of interest if there ever was one), it will be interesting to see if he turns out to be the great job creator. He will boost the military industry; some jobs will open up there (Who says the government does not create Jobs? Got to get ready for Iran). The religious right is not wrong about everything, but the poor and middle class among them are oblivious to their putting people in office that are destroying democracy—the very democracy they are trying to save. Republicans are a cynical lot. They preach morality to dupe the religious into voting for them, and after the election. They may throw them a bone or two, but then they turn to serve their rich benefactors. The poor and middle class portion of the religious right are in a an evaporating lake. The lake is still big enough to mask the catastrophe that lies ahead—but it is evaporating. I mean really: Wall Street, CEOs, Karl Rove, etc., must be privately chortling at those that vote against their own economic interests.

  8. August 22, 2012 at 15:27

    It is just amazing how Marxism has invaded the Church. How blinded we Catholics have become by Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist philosophy! The Marxist, Obama, has proven that the communist approach is devastating not only to the poor but to the entire society. Create jobs for the poor! Government handouts does nothing but make recipients dependent on government and less likely to seek work. The Church has condemned liberation theology and properly so. In her wisdom she understands that the human person is greater than the state: that the state exists for the person and the common good. The person does not exist for the state. There are many legitimate paths that can be followed to benefit the poor and all citizens. Marxism is not one of them. Ryan understands this as do many Catholic politicians. Unfortunately, the left has captured too many politicians who call themselves Catholic, but who have adopted not only Marxist economic teaching but also the social doctrines of the left especially with respect to abortion, marriage and Obamacare which is nothing more than a prescription for euthanasia. It is impossible to separate the economics of the left from sociology and anthropology of the left. Open your eyes so that you may see.

    • Tom
      August 22, 2012 at 18:27

      Oh grow up! Glenn Beck inspired ranting overlooks a 122 year old tradition that was actually a response to Marx while taking into account the legitimate criticisms he had about 19th century industrial capitalism. The tradition built upon the teaching of scripture (ever read the prophets?), tradition and the contributions of the social and hard sciences in the 20th century.

    • August 22, 2012 at 20:00

      Your use of all the jargon and the playbook of the know-nothing branch of American politics is to be expected. Yet it is still astonishing in a person who purports to be “au courant”… Obama a Marxist? You wouldn’t know a Marxist if you tripped over his tail (ha, ha)… And no – the person doesn’t exist for the state — but persons certainly don’t exist for the corporate capitalists either, although the latter are certainly trying to make that a fact – by using people like yourself, who really don’t pay attention to reality but only mouth shibboleths and PR loaded-words. We are getting very close to being an Athenian democracy, which was, after all, a state based on slavery… You may have your eyes open, but you’re blinded by what the pedophile-protecting church used to call, “in her wisdom” (what a farcical term for an institution that has suppressed so many and supports untrammeled power for centuries) “invincible ignorance”.

  9. Bebe99
    August 22, 2012 at 14:06

    The Catholic Church has always battled for its own soul. On one hand the ‘pharisees’ whose worldly view of things leaves little room for the niceties of social doctrine, on the other those who truly attempt to embrace the heart of Jesus’ teaching. I applaud the effort of any Catholic to rein in those who besmirch the name and the teaching of the church with their false claims of piety. Paul should be called on the carpet for mislabeling his philosophy as Christian when it is far from any religious teaching. However, to be fair the Church has a long history of supporting oligarchy–the true philosophy of Ryan and his party. This is not Christianity but the very anti-Christian, Dominionism. The Catholic Church would do well to name its enemy so that it can be rooted out.

  10. August 22, 2012 at 13:10

    As a former Catholic, educated from grammar school through college in Catholic institutions, I can attest to the duplicity of Catholic adherence to their so-called doctrine (teaching), especially about social matters – just look at the Vatican’s suppression of “liberation” theology and the abandonment of empowerment of the poor; the hypocrisy of forgetting various papal encyclicals on the rights of working people and the actual treatment of their own workers in schools, hospitals, and parish houses; the cover-up of child molestation and rape from the lowest to the highest levels of the clergy; the deliberate muddying of the question of contraception (opposition of the hierarchy has never been based on a finding that contraception is forbidden as a matter of “faith and morals”, that is, as a stated, infallible “doctrine” of the church); the papal deal made in the 19th century about abortion; the hypocrisy vis-a-vis so called church divorce, i.e., if you have enough influence or money you can get an “annulment”. So appealing to Jesus’ teachings is like asking a serial killer to listen to his or her conscience; the Catholic church hierarchy abandoned Jesus’ teachings hundreds of years ago — that’s supposedly what the “Reformation” was all about. But most Protestant denominations’ leaders nowadays have also abandoned Jesus’ teachings in favor of power-sharing with the other corporate institutions in our society. “Money talks – bullshit walks.”
    Most Catholics know nothing about the true history of their church, the history of the church’s teachings, or even what is really known about Jesus (other than what is in the New Testament) which amounts to zilch. Most of the so-called teachings of Jesus are later interpolations, although there is a core of sayings that can be attributed to a Rabbi Yeshua. Perhaps they should read Jefferson’s Bible – he stripped out all the “wonder tales”, “miracles” and other detritus, leaving the moral teachings. But Jefferson’s view of himself was not as a Christian; his view of Jesus was that Jesus was NOT “the son of God” but a wonderful moral teacher. But such teachings are honored nowadays only “in the breach” as they say – which has also become the case with our Constitution and laws.

    • jdonnell
      August 23, 2012 at 08:18

      Like so many know-it-alls, your comments show a drastically caricatured view of Christianity and Catholicism. What is in the NT is what is the basis of Christianity; the NT is not supposed to be a personality study of Jesus. Such informaton is irrelevant, so the “zilch” to which you refer is itself zilch. That others expressed some of the same things that Jesus espoused hardly detracts from them. Jesus didn’t claim to saying that all his views were original. Some of them reinforce the OT, some suercede it. He made clear that his “kingdom” was not material conquest or worldly, as many had believed, but that it was spiritual.

      If most Catholics don’t know a lot about Church history (and you yoyurself evidently know less than you think), that does not make them unable to be Christians. Most Americans have only a partial view of US history, but that does not make them any less citizens or less aware of the ideals of “libery and justice for all” as an ieal, sometimes realized in practice, sometimes not. Those failings do not prompt most people to leave the US and drop their citizenship; nor should failings of clergy or bishops be conducive to leaving the Church. Incidentally, if you want to catch up on what scholars have been concluding about the authenticity of the gospels, have a look at Richard Bauckmann’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.” It has the most recent and most respected scholardhip on the subject.

      • August 23, 2012 at 13:27

        You confuse religion with the church; my criticism is of the institutional church — all the rest may be true or not. But the facts are that the Roman Catholic Church, like many other monarchical bodies, past and present is no friend to truth or even religion. Power is the name of the game, and the Catholic hierarchy certainly have been masters at the game.

  11. FoonTheElder
    August 22, 2012 at 09:45

    The Catholic Church, in spite of their claims, is a one issue religion when it comes to politics and that issue is abortion.

    No matter how much they claim to care about health and other social matters, they always end up placing their implied support behind any anti-abortion candidate.

    In most cases they are right wing candidates who disagree with 80% of the Catholic Church’s stated goals. But in the end that doesn’t matter, as the anti-abortion stance trumps all.

    • tran
      August 22, 2012 at 17:59

      Stop barking without proof!

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