The Preferential Option for the Poor Correspondence Course

An exchange of letters between G.O.P. budgetary whiz-kid Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and N.Y. Archbishop and U.S.C.C.B. President Tim Dolan may offer some political cover to Republican Catholics like Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as they make their case for the House budget and provisions on Medicare/caid that Presidential Candidate, fellow Catholic, Newt Gingrich, called radical (well, at least for one news cycle he did). (Hat-tip to The Hill.)

Boehner and Ryan both released copies of the letter from Archbishop Timothy Dolan; Boehner perhaps in the belief that it may also deflect some of the heat he endured after his selection as commencement speaker at the Catholic University of America provoked a scolding on basic Catholic principles like the preferential option for the poor from national Catholic academics.


Some may try to use Dolan's letter as an endorsement of the Ryan plan, but a careful read indicates a series of endorsements not for the House budget but for statements in Ryan's letter that it was/is his intention is to remain in line with Catholic teaching in crafting his budget proposals. For instance, note how Dolan directs his comments to Ryan's letter, not the budget he put together: "I commend your letter’s attention to the important values of fiscal responsibility; sensitivity to the foundational role of the family; the primacy of the dignity of the human person and the protection of all human life; a concrete solicitude for the poor and the vulnerable, especially those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty; and putting into practice the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, here at home and internationally within the context of a commitment to the common good shared by government and other mediating institutions alike."

In his initial missive Ryan's essentially argues that he is attempting to attend to the church principles on the treatment of the least by preventing a future fiscal/social meltdown which would surely hurt the poor worst of all. No question (I guess, though a Greek-style meltdown followed by looting in the streets seem about as likely as the CDC's Zombie Apocalypse), but this propostion relies on a basic fallacy that the country faces two stark choices—cutbacks now that will hurt the poor or fiscal/social collapse that will hurt the poor. Isn't it possible to set the nation on the path to fiscal sanity in a measured way, as the bishops argue, that doesn't add more burdens onto the poor and the unemployed during a period of intense economic uncertainty?

In closing, Dolan invites himself, along with Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire and Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard, to a sit down to further discuss all things budgetary and Catholic. Since both Blaire, head of the Committee on Domestic Justice, and Hubbard, chair of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, have already issued several letters of concern regarding many of the budget cuts proposed by the House fiscal plan, it will be interesting to see if Ryan agrees to hear them make their case in person. Dolan may have to play the role of cajoler in chief to see a cordial conclusion to that encounter. 

See Ryan's letter here, Dolan's here, and Boehner's reaction here

For more:
Hubbard and Blaire on the budget here and here.


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Paul Linn
7 years 10 months ago
Archbishop Dolan understands and proclaims Catholic social teaching far better than the academics who wrote the open letter to Speaker Boehner. Of course all Christians have an obligation to the poor. And few Christians, whether they be academics, legislators, or just plain old sinners, do as much to serve the poor as faith commands. But have the Catholic academics who wrote the open letter to Speaker Boehner actually concluded that one’s obligation in Christian charity toward the poor is somehow satisfied by taking money from one person (through taxation or otherwise) and giving it to an anonymous poor person (or more likely by giving it to a bureaucrat in a program whose actual track record is to perpetuate poverty and the poverty industry). It is soft thinking, especially disappointing when coming from a group of self proclaimed Catholic academics, to confuse the obligation each has toward the poor in Christian charity with the necessity or even the appropriateness of a particular legislative proposal to provide relief for the poor or solutions to poverty. In contrast to issues where there is a clear moral absolute, like the Church's unwaivering prohibition on abortion, reasonable people can of course differ on whether the poor are better helped by policies that promote the “right of economic initiative” (to use Pope John Paul II’s words) than by bureaucratic and statist relief programs. But in terms of the Catholic worldview, Archbishop Dolan knows, as surely the Catholic academics who wrote to the Speaker should know, that a Catholic authority named Pope John Paul II strongly criticized the deficiencies of the “social assistance state”, the excesses of which he concluded lead “to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.” (Centisimus Annus, n. 35) Despite the possibly good intentions of those with views like the open letter writing academics, the reality is that in this country, the development of the social assistance state and the parallel imposition of ever more restrictions on the right of economic initiative have actually coincided and, many would submit, have caused a tremendous increase in the poor, in poverty, and in the loss of human dignity. Unlike Archbishop Dolan and Speaker Boehner, the academics confuse their politics with their religion.
7 years 10 months ago
I think a key quote from Archbishop Dolan follows:

''In any transition that seeks to bring new proposals to current problems in order to build a better future, care must be taken that those currently in need not be left to suffer. I appreciate your assurance that your budget would be attentive to such considerations and would protect those at risk in the processes and programs of such a transition. While appreciating these assurances, our duty as pastors will motivate our close attention to the manner in which they become a reality.''

The left might look at this and say that Dolan implies that he is not supporting Ryan and might have doubts.  I would say that we need to apply Dolan's statement to the current treatment of the poor by government.  If we pay ''close attention to the manner in which'' poor have been benefited by the Great Society can we conclude that the benefit to the poor has ''become a reality''?  The unintended consequences of the Great Society have been harmful to the poor.  We need to have courage and look to alternatives.  Paul Ryan has bravely taken charge.  People like Gingrich, in my opinion, are cowardly looking out for his own political interest rather than the interest of the poor.
Mary Sweeney
7 years 10 months ago
Prior to Easter I wrote a brief note to Congressman Ryan on his facebook Wall asking him to explain how he manages following Jesus and following Ayn Rand. It was removed within a very short time. I doubt that he really desires looking at anything that might diminish his political star. It is clear from his own words that he has alligned himself with Ayn Rand:
Helena Loflin
7 years 10 months ago
Enough with the empty words, intentions, attempts and excuses already.  The House Republicans voted for the Ryan Budget and, consequently, to eliminate Medicare and gut Medicaid.  Plain and simple.  Ryan can write letters attentive to the needs of the poor until the cows come home.  No amount of verbal tap dancing can change the fact of those votes or the actual content and intention of the Ryan Budget.

The bishops need to leave Ryan and Boehner alone so that they can get back to protecting unnecessary subsidies for profit-burdened oil companies and deficit-doubling tax cuts for wealthfare recipients.  

Reminder: trickle down failed.  Both times.

Oh, and when she needed them, Ayn Rand certainly enjoyed the benefits afforded her by both Social Security and Medicare.  Speaking of empty words.     
7 years 10 months ago
''sn't it possible to set the nation on the path to fiscal sanity in a measured way, as the bishops argue, that doesn't add more burdens onto the poor and the unemployed during a period of intense economic uncertainty?''

I think the measured way is what you are seeing being proposed by the Republicans.  The false choice the author and the Catholic theologians wrote about and being demagogued by the Democrats does not exist.  It is a legend in their minds to scare people into believing we are all going to be living a Spartan life eating 1500 calories a day if you follow the Republican recommendations.  If you get an adult behavior by the Democrats and reasonable plans put on the table to take care of the long term problems, the poor will be handled.  The real cost are in unsustainable entitlement payments, nearly all in medical expenditures.  But because the Democrats are smelling blood and they believe they can use rhetoric to create unrest, they are creating witches where none exists and a lot of people are falling for it. 
7 years 10 months ago
Here is a link to an Investors Business Daily article on the tax and scare strategy instead of adult behavior by the Democrats

And here is a link to more toddler behavior by the left in support of Democrat scare policies:

If you disagree with Republican policies then propose a reasonable alternative or point to one.  If you say that raising taxes on the rich will be the answer then one has to respond to the information from the past that this has a negative effect on the economy and jobs and will probably produce less tax revenues and not more.  You want the rich people's money but not in taxes but in investment in job producing activities.   The question is how to achieve that objective.  Taking it from them is not a viable answer.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 10 months ago
If austerity is called for, then cutbacks should be borne by the bloated military budget as well. We can no longer afford to be an empire.  And the companies whose interests are supported by our military adventures will have to bear the costs themselves.

The germans are making drastic cutbacks in their military.  We should do the same.  To talk of cutting benefits for the poor and middle class while running two wars is despicable.
7 years 10 months ago
People keep bringing up the ''bloated military'' as the place cut.  I could not agree more but the example of the military only further supports the argument that we need to make government smaller.  The defense of the nation is an essential role of the federal government.  The military is bloated with congressmen each supporting their pet projects in their states and districts, regardless of how this impacts the safety and security of the nation.  If only there was a way to privatize the military, I would jump on board.

But other areas don't need to be done by the federal government.  Why give this bloated federal structure more money to waste?  If we can't trust the feds with our own defense then why trust them with educating our children, healthcare, etc?
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 10 months ago
Well, congress has already been privatized.  The voters don't own them.  Private concerns do.  Congress doesn't care what I think.  I'm not rich enough.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 10 months ago

"people who disagree with that proposition aren't going to be sent to hell"

Is that what they told Dives? 
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 10 months ago
Walter, why are you talking to me about Obama's war support?  Is he supposed to be my hero?  At best, he's possibly the slightly lesser of two evils, and maybe not even that.  But at least he's not a strutting chickenhawk like Bush.  The thing is, we don't need the wars and we don't need a huge military.  If we can't afford to be a social democracy, we can't afford to be an empire.  I estimate a 75% cutback to peacetime level is called for.  What scares me is that the remaining manufacturing capability of the US will disappear with it.  But I guess that's part of our race to the bottom.


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