Rep. Paul Ryan recently claimed that his GOP budget proposal is consistent with Catholic social teaching. In response, more than 60 Catholic theologians, philosophers, ethicists, sisters, and priests (some of whom are regular contributors here at Catholicmoraltheology.com) issued a statement calling on him to “reconsider his radical budget proposal and refrain from distorting Church teaching to give moral cover to a budget that fails to live up to our nation’s best values and highest ideals.”
I found it particularly interesting when the statement contrasted Rep. Ryan’s budget with the efforts and achievements of “another Ryan” (someone most of us Catholic moral theologians studied or learned about during graduate school) who during the first half of the twentieth century championed Catholic social teaching in a way that impacted U.S. society for the better:
Rep. Ryan claims his budget reflects the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity.” But he profoundly distorts this teaching to fit a narrow political ideology guided by anti-government fervor and libertarian faith in radical individualism. This is anathema to the Catholic social tradition. In fact, ever since Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, Catholic social teaching has recognized a positive role for government and our collective responsibility to care for our neighbors. It was another Ryan — Msgr. John Ryan — who in 1919 worked with Catholic bishops on a visionary plan that called for minimum wages, insurance for the elderly and unemployed, labor rights and housing for workers. The “Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction” recognized that free markets and self-reliance alone were not enough. These proposals eventually helped inform historic New Deal programs that for the first time sought to buffer families from the cruel vagaries of profit-driven markets that had little concern for human dignity. Subsidiarity recognizes that those social institutions closest to the human person — families, communities, churches — can effectively respond to human needs. But subsidiarity, according to Church teaching, also insists that government has a responsibility to serve the common good when these institutions are unable to address the more systemic issues of poverty, inadequate health care, environmental degradation and other societal challenges.