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Mitt Romney’s choice of Catholic Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for his running mate has sparked discussion about the role of Catholic social teaching in public policy.
BY Charlotte Hays
WASHINGTON — A budget-cruncher who cites Catholic social teaching as an inspiration for his own economic thinking has been tapped for the second slot on the GOP presidential ticket.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, named Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and a seven-term congressman from Wisconsin, as his running mate Aug. 11.
The eagerly anticipated announcement was made in Norfolk, Va., where Ryan, 42, was joined on stage by his wife, Janna, and their three small children.
With the choice of Ryan, an advocate of entitlement reform and shrinking the size of the federal government, Romney has ensured that the role of government and the future of Medicare will figure prominently in this year’s race for the White House.
While Ryan has attracted harsh criticism from some Catholics — questioning whether he can rightly lay claim to the mantle of Catholic social teaching — other Catholics regard Ryan as an excellent choice.
“I am thrilled with the selection of Ryan,” Catholic thinker and author Michael Novak said, “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.
In a column published on the Madison, Wis., diocesan website Aug. 16, Bishop Robert Morlino said he was not surprised that Ryan, who lives in the diocese, was chosen as Romney’s running mate. While being careful to note that he wasn’t endorsing any particular candidate, Bishop Morlino said that Ryan is “aware of Catholic social teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles” of solidarity and subsidiarity.
The selection also drew immediate praise from pro-life leaders.
“Paul Ryan has been an eloquent defender of life, articulating his view that policy and principles can work together,” said Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life. “We look forward to hearing more from Congressman Ryan on the need to ensure that every person is welcomed in life and protected in law.”
“By selecting Congressman Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate, Governor Romney demonstrates his commitment to protecting American women and unborn children,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. “He has a pristine pro-life voting record and will be an asset to Governor Romney’s campaign.”
Still, Ryan is controversial in some Catholic circles. When he spoke at Georgetown University last spring, he was greeted 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.”
A letter from nearly 90 faculty and administration officials at Georgetown informed Ryan that his budget plan “appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
And — if that wasn’t enough — a committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, led by Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., sent a letter to Congress criticizing the Ryan budget.
Ryan replied in a brief statement that he shared their “commitment to a preferential option for the poor” — a key element of Catholic social teaching — but added that the option “does does not mean a preferential option for bigger government.”
Speaking at Georgetown, Ryan said that some Catholics “for a long time have thought they had a monopoly of sorts … not exactly on heaven, but on the social teaching of our Church. Of course there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this.”
Ryan went on to say that the “overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities and individuals running up high debt levels are ‘living at the expense of future generations’ and ‘living in untruth.’”
“We in this country still have a window of time before a debt-fueled economic crisis becomes inevitable. We can still take control before our own needy suffer the fate of Greece. How we do this is a question for prudential judgment, about which people of good will can differ,” Ryan said at Georgetown.
Entering the fray Aug. 11, Ryan said, “I’m proud to stand with a man who understands what it takes to foster job creation in our economy, someone who knows from experience that if you have a small business — you did build that.” This was a reference to President Obama’s “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that” July speech in Roanoke, Va. The remark, which has haunted the president’s campaign, is widely interpreted as putting the role of government over that of the individual.
With regard to Medicare, Ryan would allow the current system as an option, but would introduce market-based competition and a patient-centered voucher system. This led to Democratic political ads featuring a Ryan look-alike pushing a grandmother in a wheelchair over a cliff.
“The first thing to understand is that granny is going to be thrown off the cliff anyway, if we don’t make changes to Medicare,” said Joseph Antos, Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
Antos said that Ryan’s plan would modernize Medicare and make it more efficient: “On fiscal matters, Paul Ryan has no peer. Ryan understands that sequester [across-the-board cuts] is a really terrible idea because it doesn’t take on the tough issues.”
“I like the Ryan choice very much,” said Paul Kengor, author and professor of political science at Grove City College. “Liberals are going to be attacking him as lacking in compassion, being a deficit hawk and hurting the poor. But, as Ronald Reagan would say, the best anti-poverty program is a growing economy. Paul Ryan wants to help the poor by growing the economy and with policies more in line with [the Catholic principle of] subsidiarity.”
“Everybody is going to be using the word ‘gravitas,’” Kengor continued, “and Paul Ryan has gravitas. They won’t Quayle him. They can’t make him look like a deer in the headlights. He will be able to answer the questions.”
writes from Washington.
Voting Their Catholic Faith?
How do Vice President Joseph Biden and vice-presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., compare?
Given a 100 rating NARAL, when he last voted as a U.S. senator from Delaware (2008).
Rated 0 by the NRLC, indicating a “pro-choice” stance (December 2006).
Supports partial-birth abortion ban, but not undoing Roe v. Wade (April 2007).
Voted NO on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion (March 2008).
Voted YES on expanding research to more embryonic stem-cell lines (April 2007).
Voted YES on a contraception-heavy plan to reduce teen pregnancy (March 2005).
Voted YES on banning partial-birth abortions (October 1999).
Voted NO on banning human cloning (February 1998).
Voted NO on constitutional ban of same-sex “marriage” (June 2006).
Rated 0 by NARAL, indicating a pro-life voting record (2012).
Rated 100 by the NRLC, indicating a pro-life stance (2012).
Voted NO on expanding research to more embryonic stem-cell lines (January 2007).
Voted YES on restricting interstate transport of minors to get abortions (April 2005).
Voted YES on forbidding human cloning for reproduction and medical research (February 2003).
Voted YES on banning partial-birth abortions (April 2000).
Voted YES to bar funding for abortion under federal Obamacare plans (July 2010), prohibit federal funding for abortion (May 2011), protect life beginning with fertilization (January 2011), prohibit federal funding to groups like Planned Parenthood (January 2011) and grant the unborn equal protection under the 14th Amendment (January 2007).
Voted YES on constitutionally defining marriage as between one man and one woman (July 2006).
Voted YES on constitutional amendment banning same-sex “marriage” (September 2004).