Scapegoating a Bishop

It’s one thing to disagree with the Church’s judgment on prudential matters. It’s another to suggest that a Catholic bishop is an ill-informed political pawn. Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen makes such a charge in an online column for The Washington Post.

Using Obama’s campaign rhetoric, Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, recently wrote to Congress declaring that Ryan’s budget “fails to meet [the Church’s] moral criteria” because it does not require “shared sacrifice,” which Blaire [like Obama] defines as tax increases and cuts to “unnecessary” defense spending. Some of the proposed spending cuts in Ryan’s budget, Blaire said, are “unjust and wrong.”

Blaire has it backward. What is “unjust and wrong” is this bishop’s attack on a good Catholic layman.

Put aside for a moment the fact that “shared sacrifice” appears nowhere in the catechism of the Catholic Church. It is a reelection slogan for the Democratic Party. Put aside, as well, the fact that the bishop of Stockton, Calif., has near-zero competence to judge what military spending is necessary or unnecessary.

If Bishop Blaire were in cahoots with President Obama’s re-election campaign, his collaboration would be nothing less than a scandal. But Thiessen supplies no evidence for this accusation. He flings it at the bishop willy nilly.

Thiessen is also mistaken to direct his ire at Bishop Blaire. He should re-direct it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As the USCCB said through a spokesman, Bishop Blaire speaks for them on domestic policy.

Thiessen’s column makes an unsubstantiated charge and scapegoats a church official. Who is being unjust and wrong not only as a Catholic but also a columnist?



  • Chip

    I find the bishops’ response to the Ryan budget proposal very troubling. The bottom line is this: We’re broke! Drastic cuts in spending MUST be made.

    Perhaps Ryan’s cuts in poverty programs are unjust. But maybe, just maybe, they’re needed to eliminate waste. These programs just don’t seem to be doing much good as they exist today. I don’t see that demonizing Ryan is an appropriate response from the USCCB.

  • Papabile

    I am not defending Thiessan here.

    But let me tell you how this was perceived on Capitol Hill, a place I have worked at for years.

    1. The Republicans remember the exchange of letters between Paul Ryan and Cardinal Dolan (President of the USCCB in 2011). These were important enough that they were put on the Budget Committee’s web site. See:

    2. The budget presented by Ryan in 2012 for FY2013 fundamentally resembles the same budget presented in 2011 for FY2012. It does most of the same things.

    3. The journey from Dolan’s letter of a year ago to today’s letter from the USCCB which calls the current proposed budget “immoral” is simply seen as partisanship.

    4. I am not saying this is right. It is simply a fact when I say it is viewed that way.

    5. Most Republicans simply believe the bureaucrats at the USCCB drafted it, obtained approval and then sliced and diced the signature.

    6. This too is simply viewed as a fact on the Hill.

    7. You can forget about really trying to do anything legislatively on conscience.

    8. The Republicans have felt they have been hung out to dry.

    9. The Democrats are more than happy about this. A cudgel has been given to them to beat up the Republicans.

    10. The Democrats will now use this to say Paul Ryan is a dissenting Catholic and make comparisons to Pelosi et al.

    I am NOT suggesting that anyone agree with the Republicans on the Budget matters. This was simply meant to say how this is viewed from the Republican side of the aisle in the House.

  • Chris

    I think Thiessen’s last paragraph sums it up nicely:

    “The preferential option for the poor,” Ryan says, should not mean “a preferential option for big government.” After the recent federal assault on religious liberty, the bishops should appreciate the destructive power of big government. They should also appreciate the fact that the chairman of the committee crafting the Republican Party’s budget is a man of faith who is working to address the problems of poverty and our nation’s debt, so we can ensure we are not living, in Pope Benedict’s words, in “untruth” and “at the expense of future generations.”

  • Ben Anderson

    I’d agree with the other commenters who say that your claims, Mark, don’t match the data. I don’t see anywhere in the snippet you shared the claim that the bishop is an “ill-informed political pawn”. Thiessen is saying that the bishop is using the President’s (and Democratic Parties) loaded language.

  • Scott

    Anyone who has been in Bishop Blaire’s diocese for any length of time (as I have) will not find this to be a surprise at all. I think the PC term is “progressive”. I can only hope that somewhere there is a good side to him that means well…but remember, he as we, are not infallible.



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