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The morality of Paul Ryan’s budget

By Babette Francis - posted Thursday, 4 October 2012

Recent polls on the US presidential elections show that Obama is leading Romney by a few percentage points, and crucially is leading in the "swing" states, notably Ohio, which Romney needs to win to have any hope of becoming President of the US. Obama gets 95% or more of the African-American vote, which is understandable given the US history of slavery and discrimination against African-Americans. However what is not so understandable is why Obama in recent polls appears to be leading among Catholic voters, despite the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) having lobbied strenuously against Obama's Health Care mandate pointing out its moral flaws and attack on religious freedom and conscience rights.

Perhaps the USCCB needs to take some responsibility for the confusion among Catholic voters, so many of whom seem to be willing to vote for the most pro-abortion President in US history - and the first to support same-sex "marriage" - because the message from the bishops has been somewhat mixed.

In April before Congressman Paul Ryan (Republican, Wisconsin's lst District) was chosen by Mitt Romney to be his Vice-Presidential candidate in the US November elections, Ryan proposed a budget plan which was adopted by the Republican-majority House of Representatives Budget Committee, 21-9. However, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was been critical of Ryan's budget implying that it 'failed a basic moral test':


....The Catholic bishops of the United States recognize the serious deficits our country faces, and acknowledge that Congress must make difficult decisions about allocating burdens and sacrifices and balancing resources and needs. However, deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility efforts must protect and not undermine the needs of poor and vulnerable people. The proposed cuts in the budget fail this basic moral test.

The USCCB was specifically concerned about alterations to the Child Tax Credit to exclude immigrant families (it is not clear whether this cut is targeted primarily at illegal immigrants), cuts in the food stamps and the Social Services Block Grant.

While the USCCB mentions serious deficits, I wonder if they can get their heads around the 16 TRILLIONS of US debt, and that some economists estimate that by 2020 the US may be unable to pay the interest on this debt. I have difficulty in imagining a trillion but then I am just a housewife who knows one cannot "spend one's way out of debt" - a strategy which appears to be President Obama's rescue plan.

Not all bishops agree with the USCCB statement. Bishop Boyea, Lansing, said “There have been some concerns raised by Catholic economists about what was perceived as a partisan action against Congressman Ryan’s proposed budget .... Statements that endorsed specific economic policies revealed a lack of humility. We need to learn far more than we need to teach in this area. We need to listen more than we need to speak...."

Archbishop Joseph Naumann, Kansas City, agreed the USCCB committee neglected the principle of subsidiarity which calls for solutions to be provided close to people in need. He suggested drafters of the statement needed to rethink a tendency to advocate for government assistance, and USCCB proposals should not ignore the ballooning national deficit. “Sometimes we’re perceived as just encouraging government to spend more money, with no realistic way of how we’re going to afford this”.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron, Detroit, echoed Archbishop Naumann’s suggestion that the proposed document focus more on the family as the central social institution and spoke of how the “disintegration of the family” had fueled the demand for government assistance.


Warm support for Paul Ryan came from Cardinal Dolan of New York who described Ryan as a "great public servant" and praised his “call for financial accountability, restraint and a balanced budget” as well as his “obvious solicitude for the poor.” He emphasized there are differences in “prudential judgment” over how to assist the poor.

Ryan's diocesan Bishop Morlino, Madison, wrote:

... I am proud of Paul Ryan's accomplishments as a native son, and a brother in the faith, and my prayers go with him and his family as they endure the unbelievable demands of a presidential campaign .....

.... The formation of conscience regarding particular policy issues is different depending on how fundamental to the ecology of human nature or the Catholic faith a particular issue is. Some of the most fundamental issues for the formation of a Catholic conscience are as follows: sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to private property.

Violations of the above involve intrinsic evil — that is, an evil which cannot be justified by any circumstances whatsoever. These evils are examples of direct pollution of the ecology of human nature and can be discerned as such by human reason alone. All people of good will who follow human reason should deplore any and all violations in the above areas, without exception. The violations would be: abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, government-coerced secularism, and socialism....

However, a conscience well-formed according to reason or the Catholic faith, must also make choices where intrinsic evil is not involved. How best to care for the poor is the current example of this, though another would be how best to create jobs at a time when so many are suffering from unemployment. In such matters where intrinsic evil is not involved, the rational principles of solidarity and subsidiarity come into play.... The best way for assisting our neighbors throughout the world should follow the principle of subsidiarity, i.e. the problem should be addressed at the lowest level possible — the level closest to the people in need.

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About the Author

Babette Francis, (BSc.Hons), mother of eight, is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc. an NGO with special consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the UN. Mrs. Francis is the Australian representative of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer - She lived in India during the Partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan, a historical event that she believes was caused by the unwillingness of the Muslim leaders of that era to live in a secular democracy.

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