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.