Catholics and Paul Ryan


KIM LAWTON (Managing Editor and Guest Host): Campaign 2012 heated up this week after Governor Mitt Romney selected Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ryan is a Roman Catholic, and with Vice-President Joe Biden on the Democratic side this is the first time that both parties have Catholics on the ticket. Ryan agrees with his church’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage, but he has generated debate in some Catholic circles for his economic views. As chief author of the Republican budget plan, Ryan supports funding cuts for many social programs. Some Catholics, including bishops, argued that would hurt the poor. Ryan’s response:

Rep. Paul Ryan (speaking April 26, 2012 at Georgetown University): “As a Catholic in public life, my own personal thinking on these issues has been guided by my understanding of the church’s social teaching. Simply put, I do not believe that the preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for big government.”

Joining me with more on this is Kevin Eckstrom, editor-in-chief of Religion News Service. Kevin, a lot of Catholics disagreed with how Paul Ryan applied his Catholic faith to his budget plan.

KEVIN ECKSTROM (Editor-in-Chief, Religion News Service): Right, and what’s interesting is Paul Ryan has been on the Catholic radar screen for a long time, and you know when the nuns on the bus went out this summer to advocate for social justice, it wasn’t a mistake that they actually stopped at his congressional office in Wisconsin. It’s interesting, because the church for the last couple of years has really put a priority on the life issues, abortion and gay marriage, and they’ve said that Joe Biden and Barack Obama are completely wrong on this issue. But in recent months, as the budget becomes a bigger issue and more in the news, they’ve really put an emphasis on the economic stuff, and they have been very pointed in their criticism of not only the Republican plan but also Paul Ryan, who was the architect of that plan. So it will interesting to watch the sort of church’s divided loyalties on this one.

LAWTON: And I have heard some Catholics say that faithful Catholics can indeed disagree on some of the economic issues. Paul Ryan talks about the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which is not one we hear a lot in politics, but this notion that all decisions should be made at the most local level and action should be taken at the most local level possible. He uses that to justify his opposition to what he calls big government, and there are Catholics who agree with that interpretation even though others say that’s a misreading of Catholic teaching.

ECKSTROM: Right, and what the bishops are saying and what a lot of Catholics are saying is that’s fine. If you want us to do it on the local level, we’ll do that. We’ll run the soup kitchens and we’ll run the adoption clinics or whatever, but we need the government’s help to do that and don’t make it worse for us by throwing people off of, you know, making their economic conditions worse that they’re going to need more services, because there’s only so much that we can do, so if you’re going to do this fine, but don’t sacrifice the poor at the expense of the rich.

LAWTON: And some church leaders have called abortion the paramount issue and, of course, Joe Biden, while he says he’s personally opposed to abortion, certainly does favor abortion rights. And in a way the two of them, Ryan and Biden, reflect the divisions in the Catholic voters as well among these different ideological perspectives.

ECKSTROM: Right, and, you know, this is a pocketbook election. It’s all going to be about the economy and jobs and it will really come down to, you know, what people’s priorities are. I don’t know that a lot of people are going to be voting on abortion and gay marriage but a lot of people will be voting on the economy, and if they look at Ryan and say I think he’s going to possibly make it worse or he’s going to cut my Medicare benefits, among Catholics in key states like Florida, Ohio, that could have a big enough difference to actually make a difference.

LAWTON: And, indeed, Catholics have been swinging back and forth overall, showing how deeply divided they are, and in fact they voted, the majority of Catholics have voted with the one who actually won the presidency, so it will be interesting to watch.

Kevin Eckstrom, thanks as always.

ECKSTROM: Thank you.