The Common Good

Georgetown Faculty Challenge Ryan Budget

Rep. Paul Ryan is slated to speak at Georgetown University on Thursday morning. In the lead up, a group of professors and administrators is joining the chorus taking Ryan to task for claiming his budget proposal falls in line with Catholic teaching.

“Our problem with Representative Ryan is that he claims his budget is based on Catholic social teaching,” said Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese, one of the organizers of the letter. “This is nonsense. As scholars, we want to join the Catholic bishops in pointing out that his budget has a devastating impact on programs for the poor.”

Ryan cited the Catholic idea of “subsidiarity”—that issues should be handled at the lowest local level—to defend cutting government programs. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has already slammed Ryan’s interpretation of the teaching. The group of 90 Georgetown faculty and staff are following suit, saying:

“Subsidiarity is not a free pass to dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own devices. This often misused Catholic principle cuts both ways.”

In addition to the letter, the group offered Ryan some recommended reading—The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Churchcommissioned by Pope John Paul II.

The full text of the letter follows:

Dear Rep. Paul Ryan,

Welcome to Georgetown University. We appreciate your willingness to talk about how Catholic social teaching can help inform effective policy in dealing with the urgent challenges facing our country. As members of an academic community at a Catholic university, we see your visit on April 26 for the Whittington Lecture as an opportunity to discuss Catholic social teaching and its role in public policy.

However, we would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely noted in several letters to Congress – “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” Catholic bishops recently wrote that “the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.”

In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.

Cuts to anti-hunger programs have devastating consequences. Last year, one in six Americans lived below the official poverty level and over 46 million Americans – almost half of them children – used food stamps for basic nutrition. We also know how cuts in Pell Grants will make it difficult for low-income students to pursue their educations at colleges across the nation, including Georgetown. At a time when charities are strained to the breaking point and local governments have a hard time paying for essential services, the federal government must not walk away from the most vulnerable.

While you often appeal to Catholic teaching on “subsidiarity” as a rationale for gutting government programs, you are profoundly misreading Church teaching. Subsidiarity is not a free pass to dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own devices. This often misused Catholic principle cuts both ways. It calls for solutions to be enacted as close to the level of local communities as possible. But it also demands that higher levels of government provide help -- “subsidium”-- when communities and local governments face problems beyond their means to address such as economic crises, high unemployment, endemic poverty and hunger. According to Pope Benedict XVI: "Subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa.”

Along with this letter, we have included a copy of the Vatican's Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, commissioned by John Paul II, to help deepen your understanding of Catholic social teaching.

 

Sandi Villarreal is Associate Web Editor for Sojourners. Follow her on Twitter @Sandi.

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