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.