When you talk about the Catholic Church in the USA, it is like talking about the United Nations. It is a really big umbrella which includes every type of person you can imagine. Twenty-five percent of all voters are Catholic, with a 50/50 split between Obama and Romney. White Catholics favor Romney by nearly 20 points and Hispanic Catholics lean towards Obama by 50.
Both parties will be trying to court Catholics, but they are far from a cohesive group. Mass-attending Catholics tend to vote more conservatively than less religious Catholics, and one’s racial background often shows up as a major political division within the church.
Now we have another Catholic, Paul Ryan, Republication nominee for Vice-President, a devout and practicing Catholic since youth, an ex-altar boy. He has said his policies are rooted in his beliefs – not only his positions against homosexuality and abortion but also on government spending, reducing the debt, and all those entitlements.
Recently there have been lots of comments and buzz posted about this choice. Here is a selection.
“I am thrilled with the selection of Ryan,” says Catholic theologian Michael Novak, a noted conservative who sees capitalism as God’s way of improving people’s lives, “because it emphasizes family, character and a vision that is on the offense against President Obama and that sees Obama as destroying the country’s military and financial structure and pitting class against class.”
“As a smart, serious Catholic, Congressman Ryan has been steadfast on issues of fundamental principle — defending religious liberty, life and traditional marriage,” the Catholic Association said in a press release, since Ryan has been a reliable pro-life vote when it comes to abortion.
This year, the bishops have made religious liberty a central issue (yet to be seen how that will play out at the polls). Ryan is part of the House leadership that pulled a measure from a vote that would have provided more robust conscience exemptions from the contraception mandate, a bill that had the backing of the US bishops. But Ryan and Mitt Romney have both supported overturning the Affordable Care Act, so the mandate would disappear if they were elected.
Ryan went on to say that the “overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt,” quoting the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, who “charged that governments, communities and individuals running up high debt levels are ‘living at the expense of future generations’ and ‘living in untruth.’”
Still, Ryan has generated controversies in other Catholic circles. When he spoke at Georgetown University last spring, he was confronted with by a statement from 60 Catholic theologians who charged that his budget plan was “morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good.”
Ninety faculty and administration officials also told Ryan that his budget plan “appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
This summer, the outspoken Catholic nun, Sister Simone Campbell, led a bus tour across the country called Nuns on the Bus, protesting, among many things, the Wisconsin congressman’s proposed federal budget plan, which she says would slash funds for social programs for low-income people. “I don’t see what Ryan brings to the ticket. He thinks seniors are getting too big of a free ride, she said.
“Many of us are puzzled when those against abortion, who are committed to life issues, try to link their agenda with a budget plan like that of Rep. Ryan, which would take food from hungry families, deny lifesaving healthcare to millions of families, and push vulnerable people further into poverty.” The problem is that the Affordable Care Act set aside some $250 million for provisions from the Pregnant Women Support Act, money would disappear if the health care law is to be repealed.
It is true that Ryan has been trying to distance himself from the influence of an Ayn Rand-loving libertarian, and has turned to Catholic social teaching for help. He now says that he has chosen to follow St. Thomas Aquinas. His budget proposals reflect the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority.
But Stephen Schneck, director of The Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies in Washington holds that “despite his often quick reference to the concept of Subsidiarity, Congressman Ryan does not understand it well. He seems to think that it is about allowing economic markets to do what government now does or he imagines that it is about reducing government regulations. Subsidiarity, of course, is actually the ethic by which the parts of a corporate community are properly empowered for the common good of whole community.” The word subsidiarity, Schneck reminds us, comes from the Latin root subsidium, or help.
Even though Paul Ryan’s bishop defends him, Ryan’s former pastor, Fr. Stephen Umhoefer has been less than a cheerleader. He told the Center for Media and Democracy, “If [Ryan] is following his conscience, he is doing the morally correct thing. But he shouldn’t wrap himself in Catholic teaching because he is not using that [teaching] in what I would say is a balanced way.” Umhoefer specifically cited the hyper-individualism that Ryan evidently learned from Rand. “An excessive attitude of individualism is doing a great deal of harm to us as a society because we are forgetting society values.”
So for any concerned Catholic voter, using his or her faith to form his conscience on how to best vote on Election Day, we have two candidates for Vice-President who take their faith seriously, practice it, are good family men, no known scandalous conducts, and yet have conflicting visions and positions. Or as Cardinal Dolan of New York has said, you can disagree with either one, or even both, but there is no doubt about their sincerity that their faith has inspired their politics. Not always a bad thing.
As I have already noted in previous articles, however, you are free to choose either party or candidate, but should not do so for or against anyone because of one single issue, nor because of one single religious doctrine.
Father Donnell Kirchner, CSsR, of Liguori, Mo., received a degree in moral theology in Rome and taught for 39 years as a Redemptorist priest in Brazil. He currently travels around the USA preaching.
From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2012
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