Cardinal Dolan’s Paul Ryan Problem
In the weeks since Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan to be his running mate, there has been a lot of talk about whether Ryan will face problems with Catholic voters over the fact that church leaders have repeatedly criticized his budget for its extreme cuts to social programs and “fail[ure] to meet moral criteria.” But there has been very little discussion about the much bigger problem Ryan poses for the U.S. Catholic bishops themselves, especially the man who offered the benediction Thursday night after Romney’s acceptance speech—Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
Dolan is both the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and head of the Archdiocese of New York, a role sometimes referred to as “America’s Pope.” He came to his post in New York from Milwaukee, where he got to know Ryan, who is a Catholic and a Wisconsin congressman. On his radio program two weeks ago, Dolan talked about his friendship with Ryan:
“We go way back, Congressman Paul Ryan and I. I came to know and admire him immensely. And I would consider him a friend. He and his wife Janna and their three kids have been guests in my house; I’ve been a guest at their house. They’re remarkably upright, refreshing people. And he’s a great public servant.”
That admiring relationship must make it awkward for the Cardinal when Ryan does things like misrepresent Catholic social teaching or insist that health care is not a right but a privilege or refer to social programs that the bishops conference itself helps run as a “safety hammock.” After all, when a Catholic Democrat publicly dissents from church teaching or misrepresents it to a large audience, church leaders are quick to call out him or her for the transgression.
In the last presidential campaign, for instance, the Catholic running mate on the Democratic ticket spoke on “Meet the Press” about church teaching regarding conception. Joe Biden said that he was “prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception,” but that it would be “inappropriate in a pluralistic society” to impose that belief on others through law. In response, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison—who happens to be Ryan’s bishop—devoted his homily to addressing the problem of people who “claim to be Catholic.” When someone has high-profile as Biden talked about his faith in ways that did not appropriately reflect church teaching, argued Morlino, it was confusing for other Catholics. “Prominent Catholics,” he said, “should not be violating the separation of church and state by teaching the wrong thing.”
Morlino insisted that he was not singling out Democrats for criticism. “If Republican candidates were doing precisely that, I would speak out with exactly the same determination.” The Bishop of Madison was joined by Charles Chaput, then the Archbishop of Denver, who put out a statement saying that Catholic politicians in high-profile roles expose themselves to “legitimate scrutiny” when they talk about Catholic beliefs and teachings. “Meet the Press has become a national window on the flawed moral reasoning of some Catholic public servants,” said Chaput.
Four years later, have those church leaders taken Ryan to task for using Catholic social teaching to defend draconian cuts to social welfare programs? Hardly. These days, Morlino is busy protecting Ryan from those who have “unfairly attacked his reputation” by criticizing his enthusiasm for slashing social programs and foreign assistance. The current archbishop of Denver, Samuel Aquila, has written a defense of Ryan’s argument that the best way to help the poor is to reduce our national debt. “Paul Ryan is concerned that America will soon be bankrupt, and so we must make hard choices,” wrote Aquila two weeks ago. “If he is right, and we ignore the message because the consequences seem compassion-less, our sentimental affections may cripple the ones our Lord loves the most—our children.”
Neither prelate addressed Ryan’s role in killing plans to address the debt problem or his record in voting for budget-busting measures during the Bush Administration that exploded the deficit. [More]