by Charlotte Hays

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee, has said that  his cost-cutting federal budget was inspired by Catholic social teaching.

But this didn’t sit well with some Catholics.

Sixty Catholic theologians and activists issued a statement saying that  Ryan’s budget is “morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of  solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good.” And nearly 90  Jesuit scholars and other faculty members and administrators at Georgetown  University sent Ryan a letter saying that his budget “appears to reflect the  values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus  Christ.”

In addition, a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee sent a letter  to Congress critical of the Ryan budget.

But Ryan, 42, was relaxed, in shirtsleeves and in a good mood, when Register  correspondent Charlotte Hays spoke with him in his office in Washington a few  hours after he spoke April 26 at Georgetown.

Ryan earned a degree in economics and political science from Miami  University in Ohio and is serving his seventh term in the House. He and his  wife, Janna, live in Janesville, Wis., with their children.


You are being accused of “mangling” Catholic social teaching, or turning  centuries of Catholic social teaching on its ear. I wonder if what’s going on  here is a fight over who owns Catholic social teaching. Is there a monopoly on  it?

Right! And there isn’t a monopoly. That’s my point. I can no more claim  exclusive justification for my economic and political views than a liberal can  for theirs within the Church’s social teaching. This is a matter for prudential  judgment left to the laity to exercise their discretion. People of good will can  disagree on these things. You have these hits come at you — like that letter — but we should raise the tone of the debate. We shouldn’t just try to shoot the  messenger and try to nullify the notion that there are other ways in which to  implement Church teaching. That just does a disservice to the kind of debate we  need to have.

I don’t think liberals can claim exclusive jurisdiction to Church teaching  the way they interpret it. Nor can conservatives. There is plenty of room for  prudential judgment in between.


Which Catholic thinkers and documents have influenced you?

The magisterium, the Compendium [of the Social Doctrine of the Church], the  encyclicals — you know, the social magisterium is basically the encyclicals and  papal letters. People try to paste different epistemological views on me, but if  you are going to try to tell me what my philosophy is or what my motivating  philosopher is, it would be Thomas Aquinas.

I just finished one of George Weigel’s books that I really liked, but  instead of saying a particular theologian or writer, I’d say the magisterium  itself, the Compendium, my own prayers. And I believe that the founding  principles, the Founders, the American idea, created a society that is well  within the political expression of Catholic social teaching.


Read more: