How the vice-presidential debate emphasized ‘single-issue’ Catholicism
Catholicism’s social justice teachings have often been called the church’s “best-kept secret,” and after Thursday (Oct. 11) night’s vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan – the first such showdown between the first two Catholics to oppose each other on a national ticket – that may still be the case.
While moderator Martha Raddatz earned kudos for her performance, her only question about the candidates’ shared Catholic faith came near the end of the 90-minute debate, and she framed it solely as a question of how their faith affects their policies on abortion rights.
That was seen as a victory for Catholic conservatives and Republicans who want to reinforce the image of the church as a “single-issue” religion – that issue being abortion – and a setback for liberal Democrats and others who have struggled to highlight the church’s teachings on the common good as central to Catholicism’s witness in the public square.
“What a lost opportunity!” wrote Michael O’Loughlin at the blog of America magazine, a national Jesuit weekly. “If the moderator planned to discuss faith, and I’m glad she did, why limit the discussion to one issue, however important, when the full spectrum of Catholic social teaching is ripe for an expansive and thought provoking conversation?”
“I think Ryan and Biden both gave convincing, sincere answers,” O’Loughlin said. “But to limit the conversation about their Catholic faith to abortion is shameful. What about poverty? Immigration? Unions? The environment? Believe it or not, these are all ‘Catholic’ issues too.”
Many Catholic leaders, and not just liberals or Democratic activists, have been trying to make that point, and have found an opening this year with Mitt Romney’s selection of Ryan, a GOP budget wonk and libertarian-leaning congressman from Wisconsin, as his running mate.
Ryan has sought to cast his budget proposals – which focus on cutting taxes and boosting defense spending while cutting programs for the needy and the elderly – as more in line with Catholic social justice principles than with the Ayn Rand libertarianism that he said inspired his political career. That contrasts sharply with the more social justice focus of Biden, President Barack Obama’s running mate.
Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have called Ryan’s plan morally flawed, and numerous Catholic theologians and commentators – as well as activists on the religious left – have also denounced Ryan’s version of Catholic social teaching as skewed. [More]