Paul Ryan and the Catholic Vote
Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches worries that Romney’s pick of former Ayn Rand superfan Paul Ryan will “ignite a religious war of words”:
Although House Republicans of course were not eager to advertise this, the USCCB did write letters to Congressional committees, citing concerns that Ryan’s budget failed to meet “moral criteria” because it was based on “disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons.” The result: politicians’ arguments not over the budget, but over what type of budget is supported by Catholic teaching. But these are arguments for Catholics, for academics, for theologians. Seeking clerical approval (or disapproval) of legislative and policy proposals is at odds with our secular democracy. (Believe me, I understand the impulse to discredit Ryan’s claim that Catholic teaching supports his budget, but there are serious problems with officeholders and office seekers using and abusing the imprimateur of religious authorities.) Romney’s pick of Ryan, though, virtually ensures that arguments over the meaning of Catholic teaching will become an integral part of the presidential campaign. And remember, now both vice-presidential candidates are Catholics—of different stripes.
If we’re talking about seeking clerical approval, as in permission, then I agree there’s good cause for concern, but Ryan didn’t seek permission from then Archbishop Dolan to go ahead with his Path to Prosperity. Ryan made a case (wrongly, in my opinion) that his budget was in keeping with Catholic principles, wanting, it seems, Dolan’s blessing or at least recognition of this. He received a polite non-answer.
There’s nothing at odds here with secular democracy. Ryan knew his budget would receive heavy criticism from Left-leaning Catholics, which could conceivably affect support for it among Catholics in general, and he wanted to be able to say to his fellow Catholics, “Hey, look: Archbishop Dolan agrees that this budget embodies the principles of Catholic social teaching.” In doing this, he was treating his church as just another special interest group with potential sway over its members. He wasn’t about to back down on his budget cuts if Archbishop Dolan disagreed with his assessment. Ryan made a secular political move to gain support from members of a religious institution. He wasn’t taking orders from any cleric or religious authority; he never was going to do such a thing. Obtaining an imprimateur was never on his agenda.