Dolan, Ryan, and an Unfulfilled Vision of Transpartisan Witness
Archbishop Dolan has a post on his blog that attempts to balance the damage done by Republican use of his cordial response to Congressman Ryan. While the Archbishop offers a clear articulation of Catholic commitment to the common good and the preferential option for the poor, and very nicely yokes subsidarity to solidarity, the blog still refuses to use any forceful language against the Ryan Budget or Ryan and Congressman Boehner's use of Dolan’s letter to imply support for their policies.
Thus, the post continues to soften the much clearer statement of principles and policy evaluation offered by Bishops Blaire and Hubbard in their letters to the House and Senate regarding the budget. The president of the USCCB always has the ability to draw the media spotlight away from the work of the committee chairs.
The Archbishop desires to present his stance as non-partisan, but many in the pews will find his response comfortably supportive of Republican lip service to Catholic Social Doctrine.
Archbishop Dolan is more than able to summon pointed and direct language against public policy. He described President Obama’s decision to cease defending DOMA as an “alarming and grave injustice.” Such words are certainly applicable to Ryan’s budget, which deepens the deficit with trillions in new tax cuts for the wealthy then requires the poor, the vulnerable, and the middle-class to pay for the bulk of its deficit reduction. It ends Medicare, and radically cuts Medicaid, the Women Infants and Children nutrition program, and food stamps. Poor and disabled citizens will die from lack of medical treatment. Children will starve.
Archbishop Dolan argues that the bishops’ public witness to the fullness of the faith pleases neither party, and indeed it shouldn’t. He lists each party’s preferred elements of Catholic Social Doctrine italicizing subsidiarity and solidarity as the fundamental principles around which they gravitate. (I’ll offer some reflections on the use and misuse of subsidiarity in another post.)
This attractive vision of the bishops’ trans-partisan witness focusing on the principles of Catholic social doctrine is frequently invoked. It is one that I genuinely and desperately hope to see. Alas, this vision is seldom, if ever, enacted in real life.
On matters concerning abortion, and now marriage, the bishops are quick to react and don’t shy from direct public confrontation. In 2008, when Nancy Pelosi opined on her understanding of the Church’s teaching on abortion in the patristic period, a sharply worded correction was issued within 48 hours signed by the chairs of the USCCB committees on Pro-Life Activities and Doctrine.
Under Cardinal George, the USCCB waded fully into the weeds of policy interpretation and lobbied heavily against passage of the Senate version of the Affordable Care Act. Experts in the field were skeptical of their legal interpretation. But even as they publically argued against the legislation around the clock and lobbied Rep. Stupak and others to reject a compromise based on an executive order, no public pressure was brought to bear on Catholic Republicans in the Senate, who could have easily provided the votes to include the Stupak amendment in the Senate bill, and voted for cloture to allow Democrats to pass it.
One side always receives loud, pointed, public criticism; the other always gets a free pass.
Rep. Paul Ryan, feeling heat from the political backlash against his budget sent a public letter to Archbishop Dolan offering a Catholic apologia for a budget inspired more by Ayn Rand than Leo XIII, or John Paul II. The Archbishop was careful to not endorse the budget, and offered several corrections of such genial subtlety that only the most-good willed and optimistic experts could detect their presence. The bulk of the letter is filled with cordial language. The Archbishop “appreciates,” “commends” is “grateful,” and trusts this is but the “beginning of an ongoing dialogue.”
The Bishops’ response to Speaker Pelosi’s misrepresentation of Church teaching was appropriate. They briefly clarified the Church’s teaching citing chapter and verse from the Catechism.
One wonders why so different a response to Ryan. The budget is fundamentally at odds with Catholic social doctrine. He has publicly argued that it is consistent with it and has brazenly drawn the President of the USCCB into his efforts to do so. Why no chapter and verse from the Catechism and the Compendium?
If the bishops were willing to wade deeply into the policy details of the Affordable Care Act, and indeed publicly reject very plausible alternative interpretations offered by respected legal scholars with prolife credentials, why no willingness to offer a specific, public evaluation of this budget proposal?
Prudence is not enough to justify the difference. Prudence has a very important and underappreciated role, but these budget numbers are stark. If prudence can be used to justify this budget as a legitimate enactment of the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine, then prudence is meaningless. It can be used to justify anything.
This cannot be reduced to a matter of politics. This disproportionate witness to different elements of Catholic Social Doctrine leave the laity—including politicians—profoundly ignorant of the full doctrine of the Church. Nothing in the bishops’ response to Ryan or Boehner communicates to them that they might have any need whatsoever for catechetical make-up work. The bishops are failing them and the rest of the Christian faithful by not effectively teaching the fullness of Catholic faith and morals.
Archbishop Dolan’s vision of trans-partisan witness to the fullness of Catholic Social Doctrine is a good one. It would be a profound grace to the Church and to American society if it were exercised.