Is there a break in the USCCB’s united front on fashioning a just budget?
With Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin’s Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, how the government taxes its citizens and allocates its resources is receiving renewed scrutiny.
Paul Ryan is the author of what has been called “The Ryan Plan,” a budget proposal that lowers taxes for the very wealthy, increases them for the middle class and the poor, guts social services programs including Medicare, and increases defense spending, all in an attempt to balance the budget and begin paying off a staggering deficit. Ryan may be sincere in his motivations, lowering the deficit to strengthen the long-term fiscal health of the US economy, but his approach is suspect and out of line with Catholic social teaching.
That’s the opinion of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The USCCB examined several components of the proposed House budgets through a lens of moral teachings, and in an April letter, concluded that, “The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.”
At least one bishop, however, has made his dissent from that opinion clear in a column he published on his website. Bishop Robert Morlino, bishop of the diocese of Madison, penned a piece in which he praises “our diocesan native son, Paul Ryan” and explains that Catholics are called to form their consciences around key moral issues, a category in which he includes life, marriage, and “a right to private property.” Any violation of these rights is intrinsically evil, such as “abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, government-coerced secularism, and socialism.” (Forget for a moment that Jesus and the early church practiced something akin to socialism, and that monastic communities have lived out this philosophy for well over a millennium).
Bishop Morlino goes on to explain that there are various valid approaches to overcoming political obstacles where no intrinsic evil is involved, including solutions to care for the poor and marginalized. He writes that it is up to lay people and politicians to arrive at the best answers, and that, “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.” He goes on, “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.”
The USCCB had made its views known: budgets like and including the one authored by Ryan and do not meet basic moral standards that call for the protection of those on the margins of society. Bishop Morlino seemingly feels that the USCCB is incorrect in its analysis, and appears to be blessing Ryan’s proposal directly, if not his candidacy itself. Over the past few decades, some bishops have increasingly downplayed the importance of national conferences like the USCCB in order to focus on their individual authority and teaching. (Read George Weigel’s lengthy essay of the USCCB’s evolution from what he calls the “Bernadin era” to today’s Conference over at First Things for one interpretation of the phenomenon). Is Morlino’s letter an example of this shift, or simply politicking from an understandably proud fellow Wisconsinite? Is it appropriate to assume that all Ryan’s legislation will meet the strict demands of Catholic social thought because, as Bishop Morlino writes, “Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with [its] principles”?