Paul Ryan & Catholic Social Teaching

This morning my husband came in all excited by something he had read online.  While the reading online is not unusual, his excitement was indeed unusual. This left me with the task of doing my own reading online to catch up so as to have some clue about what had my unflappable husband so excited.

I began where he told me to begin. I started out with Instapundit. I don’t think I actually figured out which article he meant for me to read, but I followed a link to a C-Span of Paul Ryan giving a speech about the budget proposal he supports and how it fits with Catholic principles and from there to several links to Politico.  The speech and the Q&A session that followed are well worth the time it takes to listen to them.

“A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves, in public and in private, so to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is: How do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?”…  the principle of subsidiarity…that decisions are best made at [the] most local level available — guided his thinking on budget planning.

“To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society … where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good,”….         –Paul Ryan quoted in: Politico

His main points were on how subsidiarity leads to reforms of welfare programs so that they better help the poor by using the ideas of the people in the communities.  This helps to avoid wasting taxpayer money and helps poor people gain what they need to escape poverty and the welfare system. I like those win-win proposals and they tend to be more common when the principle of subsidiarity is practiced.

“[T]he preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence,” –Paul Ryan quoted in Politico

The preferential option for the poor is best upheld when two principles are applied in planning programs. The first is subsidiarity. The second is solidarity which is the principle that we should stand firmly united for the common good and human dignity of all; this is also the principle behind the preferential option for the poor. Sadly, there are a lot of Catholics who firmly and wrongly believe that subsidiarity is incompatible with solidarity. Subsidiarity and solidarity are complimentary principles used to build the common good.

Subsidiarity would have solidarity practiced at the most local level possible.  As Paul Ryan said in his speech, the results that come with that pairing are good for the poor and show a decrease in the number of children in poverty.

The academics at Notre Dame apparently think the only means to solidarity with the poor is to destroy the economy and place all future generations under crushing debt which is why many people think all Catholics are socialists.

“[W]e would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.”– academics at Notre Dame

As a scholar who has spent considerable time reading and re-reading the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church I do not find anything in the speech by Paul Ryan that indicates a misuse of Catholic Social Teaching but instead the best application of it that I have seen from a politician in years. Further, when is an INCREASE in the money spent on programs for the poor and needy considered a decimation of those programs?

It is far more of a misuse of Catholic social teaching to use it to defend socialism when those same documents of the Church condemn socialism in all forms as incompatible with human dignity and the practice of the Catholic faith.  This is a point that ought to be kept in mind by those academics who condemn a Catholic in public office for a correct interpretation because it fails to support their personal dedication to socialism.

Dear Lord, please guide our public servants like Paul Ryan in their efforts to correctly apply the social teaching of Your Church.  Please encourage more laypeople to recognize the sanity and balance inherent in those documents and keep them from the error of equating that teaching with socialism.  Amen.

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