Catholics find fault and blessing with Ryan's politicsDoug Erickson - Wisconsin State Journal - 9-9-2012
For months, Janesville Congressman and now Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has spoken passionately about how Catholic social teaching helped shape his budget priorities.
And for months, leaders within his own denomination have ripped him.
A committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops blasted his federal budget approach for "unjustified and wrong" cuts to the poor. A busload of nuns motored through nine states, including Wisconsin, contending his fiscal priorities are "immoral" and would "devastate the soul of our nation."
But in Ryan's own Catholic diocese, the reception has been much more nuanced, even flattering at times. Ryan attends St. John Vianney Parish in Janesville, a church of about 1,400 households in the Madison Catholic Diocese.
While never commenting on specific budget proposals, Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino has described Ryan as a Catholic in good standing and vigorously defended Ryan's right — and the right of any prayerful Catholic layperson — to form conclusions about the best ways to help the poor. (That may be true for Morlino about helping the poor, but its not true about how we should vote.)
"The fact that we're friends does not cloud my judgment when I say he is an excellent Catholic layman of the very highest integrity," Morlino said of Ryan on a Catholic radio show last month. (I am not totally convinced Morlino understands integrity. I seem to remember a very messy law suit with the Phoenix Group over a $350,000 contract Morlino didn't feel like paying because Phoenix wouldn't violate the confidentiality of the respondents of the survey they did at Morlino's request.)
In a column Aug. 16 in the Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the diocese, Morlino wrote that Ryan "is aware of Catholic social teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with (Catholic principles). Of that I have no doubt." Morlino said he felt compelled to mention the matter "in obedience to church law regarding one's right to a good reputation."
In the same column, Morlino said it is not for bishops or priests to endorse particular candidates or political parties. (Nudge nudge, wink wink.)
Diocesan spokesman Brent King said Morlino is not speaking to secular media outlets about Ryan because his comments too easily get interpreted through a political lens. The bishop also feels he has said enough about Ryan, King said.
However, Morlino agreed to an interview with the State Journal on related issues, such as Catholic social teaching and government's role in people's lives. While never mentioning Ryan, Morlino laid out a world view closely aligned to the congressman's, one in which charitable giving is the preferred method to aid the poor, and big government is to be eyed warily.
"If people begin to look to government for everything, that's how we get toward a state-imposed socialism, which is never acceptable from a Catholic point of view because it's contrary to reason, which says that human labor should yield its fruits, and that those who labor own the fruits," Morlino said.
(I've always had a certain amount of trouble figuring out where Morlino is coming from. I don't have any idea where he gets the 'fruit thing'. Laborers do not own the fruits of their labor. Their corporate bosses do.)
Those with an abundance are obligated to share with those who lack basics, Morlino said, but the best way to do that is at the level closest to the people in need, a Catholic principle called subsidiarity.
"It's just common sense," Morlino said. "In other words, if I can help you directly, why should we bring it to the mayor or the government or the president of the United States, if I can just help you?" (Because most people do not lend a lot of help to people they don't know and in some cases the need is so vast it can't possibly be handled by individual charity.)
Charitable giving respects individual freedoms and reduces bureaucratic costs, Morlino said. However, charity can't do it all, and government has a responsibility to those who are poor, especially in times of profound need, such as a natural disaster, he said. (In theory bureaucratic costs might drop, but there are a large number of charities whose overhead is astronomical. Like Priests for Life.)
But in general, governments "should not be in the business of distribution of wealth," Morlino said.
Ryan has said similar things, invoking subsidiarity to bolster his view that the current "unsustainable" growth in government entitlement programs ultimately will hurt the poor. (Please see the previous post on this blog.)
"If we keep growing government in debt," Ryan told EWTN, a Catholic television network, "we will crowd out the civil society — those charities, those churches, those institutions in our local communities that do the most to actually have a human touch to help people in need. That's what we want to empower. That's what we want to improve on." (Just how far would Catholic hospitals and Catholic Charities get without direct government assistance or programs like medicare and medicaid? Not very far.)