Our liberals have been running with a meme which goes “Ryan’s budget plan is anti-Catholic” – the basis of the liberal argument is that a letter was written under the letter head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which condemned the Ryan plan when it was first presented. Without getting in to the intra-Catholic weeds on this, the mere existence of such a letter does not either indicate Catholic doctrine nor how the Bishops, if pressed on the matter, would rule. Lots of liberals reside on the staff of the USCCB and they do take their opportunities to help liberal Democrats.
The letter, itself, held that the alleged cuts to social spending in the Ryan plan violated Catholic teaching as it relates to helping the poor. Of course, Catholic teaching is that the poor have an absolute moral claim upon the wealthy for sufficient housing, clothing, food and health care – there can be and is no argument about that. If you’ve got the means, you are morally obligated to help out the less fortunate. On the other hand, how you are to help out is not set out with precision – because it can’t be. Circumstances are so varied among both the haves and the have-nots that no one person can figure out exactly what one person should do for another in all circumstances. The bottom line is that there can be a great deal of different opinion on the best means to the end – and Ryan’s bishop, Robert C. Morlino, has written an article clarifying the Catholic view – first laying out what is required:
…It is the role of bishops and priests to teach principles of our faith, such that those who seek elected offices, if they are Catholics, are to form their consciences according to these principles about particular policy issues.
However, the formation of conscience regarding particular policy issues is different depending on how fundamental to the ecology of human nature or the Catholic faith a particular issue is. Some of the most fundamental issues for the formation of a Catholic conscience are as follows: sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to private property.
Violations of the above involve intrinsic evil — that is, an evil which cannot be justified by any circumstances whatsoever. These evils are examples of direct pollution of the ecology of human nature and can be discerned as such by human reason alone. Thus, all people of good will who wish to follow human reason should deplore any and all violations in the above areas, without exception. The violations would be: abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, government-coerced secularism, and socialism…
So, we can say, “politician A is in favor of elective abortion and as that is an intrinsic evil, I must not vote for politician A”. But outside of the area of intrinsic evil, there is a lot more flexibility – and it becomes a matter of prudential judgement on the part of Catholics (and, indeed, everybody) to decide as best they can.
The bishop continues:
…Catholics and others of good will can arrive at different conclusions. These are conclusions about the best means to promote the preferential option for the poor, or the best means to reach a lower percentage of unemployment throughout our country. No one is contesting here anyone’s right to the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. Nor is anyone contesting someone’s right to work and so provide for self and family. However there can be difference according to how best to follow the principles which the Church offers.
Making decisions as to the best political strategies, the best policy means, to achieve a goal, is the mission of lay people, not bishops or priests. As Pope Benedict himself has said, a just society and a just state is the achievement of politics, not the Church. And therefore Catholic laymen and women who are familiar with the principles dictated by human reason and the ecology of human nature, or non-Catholics who are also bound by these same principles, are in a position to arrive at differing conclusions as to what the best means are for the implementation of these principles — that is, “lay mission” for Catholics…
It is up to us, informed by our Catholic teaching (if we are Catholics) and our good sense in conformity with natural law (if we are thinking people of any belief system) to figure out the best means of carrying out the necessary measures. Such means can include government funding for social programs – but they don’t have to. There is no moral requirement to raise tax revenues to spend on poverty relief – in practical terms it might be the best expedient, but that is an empirical question. We think about it, decide our plans, implement them and see how they work – and then revise or repeal as experience is gained. It is a lie – flat out – for anyone to say that any cut to social spending is morally wrong. Cut, keep the same, increase – it is a matter of judgment. Given that we have spent trillions on anti-poverty programs and poverty is now worse than before (and there is plenty of data indicating that long-term government dependency is morally destructive to both the individual and the family) a strong case can be made that reforms are necessary. This, in the end, is all Ryan proposes – that we reform what we have with a mind towards making it more effective in achieving our desired end (less poverty).
As an aside, I’d like to note that I am nauseated by liberal attempts to knock Ryan on grounds of Catholic social teaching. Honorable Catholics of good will and even non-Catholics who are generous and wise can take all sorts of exception to Ryan’s plan. no problem with that at all – but what we have here is an attempt to smear Ryan and make him odious, as a Catholic, to his fellow Catholics. And this is done for the narrow, partisan and downright disgusting program of generating sufficient votes to get the anti-Catholic Obama re-elected. I’ll pay attention to these liberal carps about any Catholic’s plans once I see liberals subscribing to the entirety of Catholic social teaching – once, that is, they also come out against gay marriage and against abortion.