Click here if you don’t see subscription options

Is there a break in the USCCB’s united front on fashioning a just budget? Paul Ryan

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”?

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
11 years 11 months ago
Actually, Vince, the last time we heard from Bishop Morlino, he was threatening to put the people of St. Mary's parish in Plattvile under interdict. He had assigned some priests from an order having trouble coming to terms with both Vatican councils to their parish, and lo!, the only Mass left in English was one on Sunday. It was all-Latin the rest of the week. Coillections dropped off. The pastor closed the school. Can we talk? Some asked the bishop. Pray, Pay and Obey, he replied. Judging by the church bulletin, the "pay" part has not been taken to heart. I don't know how those folks do with praying in Latin.

Nancy, there has always been division in Christ's Church. Read Acts. Sometimes we handle it better than we do at others. I think a lot of our problems would be solved if our nation were not at war over the evils of two lessers. But that's just my opinion.
Mike Brooks
11 years 11 months ago
I don't know why the bishops even bother venturing into the political arena, as if there is some clear answer as to which budget best aligns with Catholic teaching.  Look at the spin that Mr. O'Loughlin put on Ryan's budget at the beginning of the post, for example; it's all hyperbole.

What the Church should be concerned about is which party is most likely to help the Church survive in this country.  One party promotes secularism over religion; the other promotes freedom of religion over secularism.  The Church's number one priority is survival; it can't help anyone if it doesn't exist.  The Evangelicals figured this out; why can't the Catholics?
Eugene Pagano
11 years 11 months ago
How soon before he resigns for "health" reasons, like Martino in Scranton — who also bucked the Bishops' Conference on political matters?
Robert Killoren
11 years 11 months ago
Maybe it is time we give the right it's chance to run the country. Let's see how their social engineering works. Let's see what happens in the poorest cities in America where unemployment exceeds 15%. Let's see what new surprises newly unregulated banks have in store for us. Let us even make unions illegal and give complete tax free unregulated reins to big corporations and see how many jobs are created. Let's drill baby drill anywhere the oil companies want. Untie their hands of all those EPA rules and see if they can make us energy independent with $1.50 a gallon gasoline at the pumps. Let's get rid of the US Department of Education and give the states block grants they can spend on anything thy want. Let's make everyone carry papers and anyone who can't provide them immediately will be shipped to the nearest border. Let's change Medicare to a voucher system and repeal Obamacare and watch the costs go down for those with their own private health insurance. Let's see America flourish under an unfettered capitalistic economy.
Vince Killoran
11 years 11 months ago
The last time we heard from Bishop Morlino was a year and a half ago when he was backing Governor Scott Walker.

And before then? In 2006, he caused a stir when, just days before voters went to the polls to cast ballots on a same-sex marriage amendment, he recorded a 14-minute message that warned any opposition to the Church’s official position would be considered “an act of disobedience, which could have serious consequences.”

He seems like more of a GOP insider than a bishop of the Church.  If I lived in the Madison diocese I would return the bishop's annual appeal in an empty envelope.
Jay Berringer
11 years 11 months ago
Anybody can warble unctuously on about the vital importance of taking care of the "least among us."

@Amy...I'll assume I'm one of the warblers because I am. And I agree, running a government in a country as diverse and as large as the U.S. is certainly difficult, perhaps moreso than running a church.  I don't reasonably expect all of the answers coming out of Washington to align with Church teaching.  In fact, I don't want it to simply because there are those of other faiths and no faiths who should not be forced, per the First Amendment, to live under any single church's view.  However, it is the job of the Church and her Bishops to represent Christ in this world.  Said succinctly the bishops role is to educate, advocate, and defend (be the voice) of Jesus' teachings (which were quite clear on social responsibility).

While, as a citizen, Bishop Morlino is welcome to his opinion, speaking from the miter, as it were, takes on an entirely different color and that is what I take umbridge to as it shows a bishop out of touch with Church teachings or worse, one who is using his position for political gain.
Amy Ho-Ohn
11 years 11 months ago
Hi Jay,

No, I didn't mean you; it's impossible to warble into a combox. I mean the bishops. My point is that the bishops don't really know enough about the details of the country's financial condition or about the policy options available to make a worthwhile contribution to the discussion.

The bishops, and their counterparts in other religions, got lazy a long time ago. For centuries all they had to do was pull out some quote from Scripture or Tradition, however remotely relevant to the question at hand, and intone it piously, and everybody would assume (or pretend to assume) they had something deep in mind. Then the culture warriors would fall to hacking each other to pieces over whose side God was on, while the bishops would process magnificently back in to their feeding trough.

This debate is poisonous enough without injecting religion into it. The plain truth is that the country is trillions of dollars in debt and somebody is going to have to pay for it. Pretending that it can all be payed for by some mythical race of "super rich" deliverers is irresponsible. Pretending that it can be payed for by taking away government assistance from some mythical race of "undeserving welfare deadbeats" is irresponsible too.

The debt got run up by ordinary middle-class people indulging themselves in luxuries they couldn't afford and didn't need. Now it's going to have to be paid off by those same ordinary middle-class people foregoing more luxuries they think they need: most of us are going to have a much grimmer future than we imagined.

Anne Danielson
11 years 11 months ago
The question is why is, why is there division in Christ's Church, to begin with
JR Cosgrove
11 years 11 months ago
When one comments on Paul Ryan it might be good to have what he says in his own words. Here are three videos on his plan:




For those interested in his personal and family history, here is a puff piece based on an interview with his brother. 


Mr. O'Loughlin said

''“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.''

I am pretty sure that a lot of this is not accurate.  He definitely does increase Defense spending and wants to balance the budget but the rest to use an expression is ''suspect'' as an accurate characterization especially the interpetation of Catholic social teching. To better understand the Ryan Budget here is a site that has about anything one could want to know about government spending and taxes as far back as one one coud want.  Poke around but here is the specific link to the Ryan Budget.


The Ryan Budget estimates spending about $3,530 Billion.  Bill Clinton's last budget was $1,800 Billion of which he said he couldn't image the need for any additional spending.  Now there has been some inflation since then and we have more unemployed but to describe it with the rhetoric that has been used in not accurate.  Maybe a little more accuracy in reporting is needed here.
Jay Berringer
11 years 11 months ago
Where to even begin? Bishop Morlino just reinforces my low opinion on U.S. Bishops. Has there ever been such a high ratio of cluelessness among the USCCB before? Christ promoted "socialist" values, even "communist" ones along the lines of contribute what you can, take what you need. And as O'Laughlin points out many religious communities today live a communal lifestyle.

As for which party supports which, the Church will survive and needs neither party to champion its causes.  The party supporting "secularism" is more friendly to diverse religions than the party supporting "freedom of religion" (read: Christianity, preferably the evangelical flavor).  Moreover the Church's number one priority should be it's mission to shepard the flock and especially those who are less fortunate and most vulnerable.  Survival was assured by Jesus himself and maybe if the princes of mother church would focus on those less fortunate than to waste time, energy and effort on abortion, homsexuality, alleged co-erced secularism and these other "attacks" against her she'd be much stronger.  In short, don't tell others how to live, show them.  Live by example.

One wonders if Bishop Morlino will be censured by Rome for fostering ideas contrary to the faith in the same way the LCWR is being taken to task.  (I already know the answer to that.)
Amy Ho-Ohn
11 years 11 months ago
I personally am not at all happy with Romney's VP choice. I would never vote for a ticket with Ryan at the top. But Romney is in good health and this could be win-win: get Ryan out of the way into the eminently powerless vice-presidency and also put somebody halfway rational in charge of the House budget.

However, I think it is important to remember that when Ryan came up with this budget and when the House Republicans voted for it, it had absolutely no chance of being implemented. It's not a serious plan for government; it's an ideological rallying cry. Once the Republicans have to actually pass a budget on which they'll have to run for re-election, a lot of the extreme stuff will be removed.

The bishops are infallible when they speak on questions of faith and morals, but on questions of economic policy they are often clueless. Anybody can warble unctuously on about the vital importance of taking care of the "least among us." Financing a government that is trillions of dollars in debt in an unstable global economy is a lot harder.

Tom Maher
11 years 11 months ago
This whole article is about the undefined idea of a "just budget" that does not have a connonly understood and agreed to meaning. Yet this artcile trys to condemn a sound and reasonable budget based on the assujmption of that standards and definitions for a "just budget" whatever that means. 

It is highly prtenstious for anyone to declare an entire budget as "just" or "unjust" espcially when no know standard or definition for a "just" budget exists or is likely toe ver exist. 

In a nation of 350 million people the meaning of what should or should not be in a budget is likely not to cmmonly agreed to all the time.  Rhese are political choices that the body politic should decide.  Budgeting is not one-sided, moralistic decision that can be easily made by reference to Catholic Social Doctrine.  And a majority oif the country including most Catholics have mever heard of Catholic Social Doctrine even if it had marginal applicability in resolving complex issues of government fiancing. 

It is technically wrong and wrongheaded to assume that the nation posses unlimited financicial resources such that every program and idea can and should be always funded to the maximum without depriving the funding to even more necessary programs,   Technical  budegt decisions must be made limiting total budget. with the scarce resources avilable to the nation at any time of the nation at any time.  
Jim McCrea
11 years 11 months ago
"The bishops are infallible when they speak on questions of faith and morals,-"

TILT! Only one bishop is allegedly infallible when speaking on faith and morals.  And is not in his role as bishop.
John Hayes
11 years 11 months ago
TILT! Only one bishop is alledly infallible...

As Lumen Genitum says:
Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively held.

Amy Ho-Ohn
11 years 11 months ago
A technicality, because I know somebody is going to think "dumb female doesn't know anything about economics": obviously, the debt doesn't have to be paid off. It doesn't even have to stop increasing. But it does have to stop increasing so fast. Just getting the second derivative to zero is going to require a lot of sacrifice. That's the point.
David Smith
11 years 11 months ago
''The question is why is, why is there division in Christ's Church, to begin with''

Maybe because clergy and religious have come to believe that omniescence comes with vows and holy orders - just as laymen believe it comes with advanced university degrees.  Arrogance is everywhere.

The latest from america

A Reflection for the Feast of St. James, Apostle, by Julian Navarro
Julian NavarroJuly 19, 2024
A Reflection for Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time, by Connor Hartigan
Connor HartiganJuly 19, 2024
A Reflection for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, by Delaney Coyne
Delaney CoyneJuly 19, 2024
Maybe the reformed hearts at the Eucharistic Congress will leave Indianapolis with a new attitude when faced with signs like “Deport Them All.”
Joe Hoover, S.J.July 19, 2024