With Ryan on the Ticket, Spotlight Focuses on the Catholic Church

After Mass on Sunday, North Carolina pastor Rev. Andre Mangango was approached by a man who, a day earlier, was introduced as Mitt Romney’s running-mate for the 2012 presidential election.

“I am Representative Paul Ryan and this is my son,” the man said.

Ryan reportedly attended the 7:30 mass that morning with a group of Secret Service agents at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina prior to campaign events later that day in the state.

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“Our rights come from nature and God, not government,” Ryan said, in his post-nomination speech. “We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.”

Those words characterize Ryan’s understanding of the role of government.  As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan put forth a plan for America in his budget that passed in the House. His goal? The pursuit of growth and opportunity.

The plan proposed significant reforms in the welfare programs that characterize modern American society.

Ryan’s lean budget caught the attention of two bishops from the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, who warned that cuts to programs designed to help the poor failed to meet “moral criteria.”

Ryan responded respectfully to the Bishops and maintained a dialogue with the USCCB that included several letters. Ryan also corresponded with Archbishop Timothy Dolan about the matter, arguing that some cuts and reforms were necessary to ensure a healthy growth-based economy.

After Ryan was criticized publicly by professors at Georgetown University, he visited the university to defend his budget in person.

“Our budget offers a better path, consistent with the timeless principles of our nation’s founding and, frankly, consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith,” Ryan explained to the skeptical professors. “We put our trust in people, not in government. Our budget incorporates subsidiarity by returning power to individuals, to families, and to communities.”

In addition Paul cited Pope Benedict XVI to explain the need to serve all peoples by creating a strong economic system.

“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,” he explained.

Now that Ryan is Romney’s running-mate, these criticisms have boiled back to the surface. Ryan’s bishop, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, wrote a surprising column praising his “diocesan native son.”

“Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above,” he wrote. “Of that I have no doubt.”

In his column, Morlino explained that where “intrinsic evil” was not involved, a Catholic political figure was expected to act according to his conscience.

Morlino explained that Ryan’s view of solidarity—the responsibility to help fellow human beings—was well within the principals of the Church.

“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,” he wrote. “As Pope Benedict himself has said, a just society and a just state is the achievement of politics, not the Church.”

Ryan attends Mass every week, attends a prayer group on Capitol Hill and sends his kids to Catholic school. Ryan was raised Catholic, served as an altar boy, and attended Catholic schools himself.

With Ryan on the ticket, Romney can attract Catholic voters who identify with his values. But the Obama ticket has the first Catholic Vice President, attracting his own share of the Catholic vote.

Although the two are both Catholic, both Biden and Ryan remain starkly different on the issues which have already attracted the attention of the media.

“Biden vs Ryan: two very different Irish-Americans fighting over a ‘bucket of warm spit’” read a news headline, referring to the famous description of the office from former Vice-President John Garner.

Catholic University’s Stephen Schneck, the director of America’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Research explained the difference between the two Catholics to TIME magazine.

Biden’s Catholicism, Scheck said, was the Catholicism of “ethnic neighborhoods and union halls and St. Christopher medals on the dashboard” while Ryan’s was about, “obedience to the bishops, about pro-life politics, and reflects the professional class of Catholics who made it out of the old neighborhood and into the suburbs.”

Biden’s “ethnic Catholicism” described by Scheck, often comes into play during popular public events and holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day, but remains hidden when critical moral issues come into play.

Biden has long supported abortion rights in spite of his personal views, and his Catholicism has remained nearly invisible during his term as the first Catholic Vice President. Ryan, however, has maintained a pro-life voting record and has a record opposing gay marriage.

In 2007 Biden expressed the personal understanding of his faith to the Christian Science Monitor: “There are elements within the church who say that if you are at odds with any of the teachings of the church, you are at odds with the church. I think the church is bigger than that.”

During the Obama administration’s fight against the Catholic Church regarding the Health and Human Services Contraception mandate, Biden had little to say publicly. Reports suggested that Biden warned the president about the political consequences of challenging the Catholic Church, but he was unable to sway Obama’s position on the issue.

After the administration feigned a compromise on the issue, Biden publicly insisted “the conscience clause is being honored in its literal sense,” and insisted that he had worked out a compromise with the Catholic bishops.

The bishops disagreed, and over 40 Catholic organizations filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s decision.

Contrast that with Ryan, who last week hosted a conference call with Catholic leaders, warning that the HHS mandate was an “assault on our religious liberties” and was “a serious threat to all peoples of faith.”

“No American should be forced to choose between their faith and their job,” he said. “No one should be forced to choose between their conscience and their livelihood.”

Biden notably ignored Catholic moral teaching when he revealed his support of same-sex marriage.

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying one another are entitled to the same exact rights,” he said in an interview earlier this year. Biden’s comments forced Obama to publicly reveal his own position of support for gay marriage.

Biden’s reluctance to publicly defend Catholic moral principals has continued for many years, often unchallenged by his bishops or fellow Catholics.

Paul Ryan has only been on the trail for a week, but already a great deal of attention has been given to the teachings of the Catholic Church and their political application in the public square. As the battle between Obama and Romney continues expect even more light to be shed on issues important to Catholics.


  • Charlie Spiering

    Charlie Spiering writes in Washington D.C. for the Washington Examiner. He previously wrote for the Rappahannock News and worked as a reporter for columnist Robert Novak.

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