Congressmen Paul Ryan and Joe Kennedy Respond to Pope's Calls to Empower the Poor

America asked two prominent members of Congress, both Catholics with famous names, to respond to Pope Francis’ repeated calls to empower the poor.

Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, is an eight-term member of Congress from Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. In "Preferential Options" (10/13), Rep. Ryan writes that debates over poverty often present the market and government as two competing principles, when in fact they are both tools that can "work together to enhance human dignity." Fighting poverty, he argues, requires striking a balance between solidarity (a shared commitment to the common good) and subsidiarity (deference to those closest to the problem).


Joe Kennedy III is a Democratic congressman from the Fourth Congressional District of Massachusetts and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. His prescriptions for addressing entrenched poverty likewise spring from the "fundamental human dignity that lies at the very heart of our Catholic faith." In "Dignity For All," (10/20), argues agaisnt the widespread belief that "Poverty is bred of individual inadequacy and government dependency." Poverty, he writes, "is the product of an economic infrastructure that builds heavy ceilings above the weak and vulnerable instead of sturdy floors beneath their feet."

Both congressmen share specific economic and social policies that reflect their understanding to Catholic social teaching. Rep. Ryan would "reconceive the federal government’s role. No longer would it try to supplant our local communities." His proposed Opportunity Grant pilot program would consolidate "11 federal programs into one stream of funding to participating states," which:

could use that money to expand state programs and to partner with local service providers. So families in need would have a choice. There would not just be a state agency or a federal agency. Instead, they could choose among non-profits like Catholic Charities USA, for-profits like America Works or even community groups unique to their neighborhood. And instead of offering a bunch of different benefits, these groups could offer a more holistic form of aid through case management.

Rep. Kennedy argues that "tackling the profound economic inequity in this country means realigning public policy with the fundamental American idea that what you start with does not determine where you end up." Reversing cuts to the safety net, investing in early childhood education, creating family-friendly work policies, cracking down on predatory lenders—none of these policies are a silver bullet, "but together they work to reform a system that routinely denies working-class families mobility, opportunity and justice."

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Mary Sweeney
3 years ago
Excellent article for reflection for today, Yom Kippur. There is a war against the poor. We have to contemplate how we can atone, how we can make right, how we can make just.
Andrew Eppink
3 years ago
Why does anything the pro 'choice'/abortion Kennedy says appear in any Catholic publication?


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Imtiaz Cajee, nephew of Ahmed Timol, poses with his book about the activist on Aug. 24 in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Africa. (AP Photo, File)
A judge has overturned a finding of suicide and ruled that Ahmed Timol was murdered by South Africa’s Security Police 45 years ago.
Anthony EganOctober 23, 2017
Activists with Planned Parenthood demonstrate in support of a pregnant 17-year-old being held in a Texas facility for unaccompanied immigrant children to obtain an abortion, outside of the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017.
Texas bishops: "No one -- the government, private individuals or organizations -- should be forced to be complicit in abortion."
Catholic News ServiceOctober 23, 2017
It is time for the laity to speak out and act like true disciples of Christ in spreading the joy of the Gospel. 
Thomas J. ReeseOctober 23, 2017
Pope Francis speaks from the Vatican as he addresses Canadian youths in a video message that was included in a Salt and Light Television program on Oct. 22 (CNS photo/courtesy Holy See Press Office).
“The world, the church, are in need of courageous young people, who are not cowed in the face of difficulties," the pope said.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 23, 2017