Paul Ryan and Catholic Social Teaching

Many Evangelicals are not very familiar with Catholic social teaching, though they do tend to like conservative Catholic leaders like Republican Congressman Paul Ryan. It is worth paying attention to what makes Catholic conservatives like Ryan tick, as well as to what brings them criticism from left-leaning Catholics.

Ryan describes the way in which Catholic theology shaped his budget plan here. Particularly noteworthy is his appeal to two very important principles of Catholic social thought, generally endorsed by both conservatives and liberals.

On the principle of subsidiarity:

Ryan said that the principle of subsidiarity — a notion, rooted in Catholic social teaching, that decisions are best made at most local level available — guided his thinking on budget planning.

“To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society … where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good,” Ryan said.

And on the preferential option for the poor:

The Wisconsin Republican said that he also drew on Catholic teachings regarding concern for the poor, and his interpretation of how that translated into government policy.

“[T]he preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence,” said Ryan.

As the article says, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has praised Ryan for his attention to Catholic teaching. On the other hand, Joe Knippenberg points out the top bishop in the USCCB committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development disagrees.

This debate within the Catholic tradition is an old one, involving Catholic theology and politics at the highest level. It is one that Evangelicals would do well to pay attention to, both because there is tremendous Christian wisdom in the Catholic social teachings that have been articulated over the years and because the struggle of the Catholic Church to resist politicization and polarization in terms of right and left is illustrative of the challenges to being Christian in America. I will certainly return to these matters in future posts.

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on April 25, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Paul Ryan and Catholic Social Teaching.

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