Paul Ryan’s Bishop Defends “Good Name” of his “Brother in Faith.”

Photo: Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, WI

As Carson Holloway pointed out yesterday, some progressive Catholics have been throwing around the “D” word in reference to Rep. Paul Ryan: Dissent! Many of their friends in the secular media have been parroting the same. The L.A. Times actually asks, “Should Paul D. Ryan be excommunicated?”

I’m glad to know that the Times takes Catholic doctrine so seriously.

But rather than cataloguing the blogosphere’s musings on the catholicity of the GOP nominee for VP, let’s cut to the chase. What does Paul Ryan’s own bishop think?

In his weekly column for his diocesan newspaper, Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, WI—Paul Ryan’s home diocese—addresses just that question.

Here’s the meat of the bishop’s argument:

As one looks at issues such as [caring for the poor and creating jobs] and seeks to apply the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, 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.

Thus, it is not up to me or any bishop or priest to approve of Congressman Ryan’s specific budget prescription to address the best means we spoke of. Where intrinsic evils are not involved, specific policy choices and political strategies are the province of Catholic lay mission. But, as I’ve said, 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. Of that I have no doubt. (I mention this matter in obedience to Church Law regarding one’s right to a good reputation.)

Joan Frawley Desmond over at the National Catholic Register spoke with Bishop Morlino about this matter yesterday. In a phone interview, Bishop Morlino told the Register that, while people of good will can and do disagree with Ryan, it is his duty as bishop to defend his flock from unjust attacks:

I am defending [Rep. Ryan’s] reputation because I am the one who, as his diocesan bishop, should have something to say about this, if anyone does….Since others have, I believe, unfairly attacked his reputation, I have to look out for his good name. That is Church law. If someone disagrees with Paul, he is free to do that. But not on the basis of reputation destruction, really calumny.

Bishop Morlino hasn’t endorsed Paul Ryan as a candidate. (He’s a bishop, he doesn’t endorse any candidates.) Nor do Bishop Morlino’s words end the ongoing debate about the practical wisdom and justice of Paul Ryan’s budget proposals; that debate will rage on through (and one expects, beyond) the election. The responsibility for the resolution of that debate and the implementation of just policies falls ultimately upon the laity.

But Bishop Morlino’s words should put to rest, once and for all, the specious charge that Paul Ryan’s budget constitutes “dissent” from the Church’s social doctrine or is somehow “fundamentally incompatible” with Catholic social teaching. It is neither. On the contrary, Ryan is a “brother in the faith,” who is “aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles.” Of that, Bishop Morlino has “no doubt.” Neither should we.

Stephen P. White is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC and coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society. The views expressed here are his own.


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  • tarco

    How deperate can the opposition be. Paul Ryan is the kind of person we need more of. It is refreshing to know there are some decent people left. Too many Catholics in Name Only in congress should be admonished, like pelosi and biden and the Kennedys, on and on etc. Ryan is none of those. Ryan is in my prayers that he will be successful. America needs him. May God bless him.

  • Antonio A. Badilla

    I am tired, I am truly tired about the attacks on Paul Ryan by people who should know better. Any educated Catholic knows there is a heck of a difference between “prudential jugment” matters and “intrinsic” evil issues. One can in good faith disagree on prudential judgment matters, while one is not free, as a Catholic, to disagree on what constitutes an intrinsic evil.
    Those who often attack Ryan know the difference between the two yet they act as if abortion, an intrinsic evil, has the same weigh as housing for the poor. This is dishonest at best and very misleading. For the “Los Angeles Times” to ask for Ryan’s excommunication on prudential matters and not to ask for the excommunication of Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius and Biden who have, repeatedly, challenged the Church’s teaching on an intrinsic evil like abortion, is beyond the pale and first class hypocrisy.

    • Cindy

      I agree with your comments concerning prudential matters vs. intrinsic evils. As of last night, though, Paul Ryan’s official political stance on abortion (as opposed to his personal stance) became antithetical to Church teaching. And this is not a prudential matter. According to a written statement by a Romney campaign spokesperson, the Romney-Ryan ticket supports abortion in cases of rape. Thanks to the attempt to paint Romney as a Pro-Life candidate, I was unaware that this was already Romney’s stance (which he has apparently held throughout his campaign). And now he’s dragging Ryan into this position, which is untenable from a Catholic point of view. Ryan either needs to get off this ticket in order to maintain his credibility as a faithful Catholic, or Romney needs to adopt a truly Pro-Life position and repudiate this abominable stance – which allows the child to be killed for the sin of the father. According to the conservative National Journal, an unnamed Romney campaign official confirms that allowing for abortion in cases of rape is not Ryan’s PERSONAL stance ( but that it is the ticket’s stance. This hearkens back to liberal Catholic politicians who claim that they PERSONALLY oppose abortion, while politically allowing for at least some abortions. If Ryan allows himself to be manipulated into Romney’s untenable abortion stance, then he does start to look like just another opportunistic politician who happens to be Catholic, and if that’s the case, then Bishop Morlino may have spoken too soon. I hope CV addresses this issue.

    • Cindy

      Ooops! In my previous comment, I got the National Journal confused with the National Review. LOL. The issue of Ryan’s abortion stance vis-a-vis Romney’s is, however, still a matter of serious concern.



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