Catholic News Agency - Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the USCCB’s committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, questions the Ryan budget proposal’s support of programs that serve the poor and vulnerable.
Following months of controversy regarding the battle between Catholic bishops and the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, some media commentators believed the Catholic Church was solidly Republican, but a budget plan by Republicans in the House of Representatives has some faithful steamed as well.
A proposed budget called “The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal” developed by Rep. Paul Ryan, was passed by the House of Representatives, mostly along party lines, in March. The budget reduces discretionary spending over the next 40 years, eliminating or altering funding for various social programs like Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Food Stamps and education aid. It also aims to simplify the tax code and lower rates for individuals and corporations.
“From a moral perspective, while well-intentioned, the paternalistic structures of these programs fail the very people they are intended to help,” reads the Path to Prosperity. “Government programs should bolster – not displace – the family, civic and religious institutions that serve communities across the nation. The strains that many of these well-intentioned programs have placed on the nation have reached a breaking point.”
Even though Ryan is a Catholic, his proposals did not impress Catholic leadership. Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the USCCB’s committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, wrote a letter to the House on May 8 supporting programs that serve the poor and vulnerable.
“Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity,” Bishop Blaire wrote. “A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.”
Specifically, Bishop Blaire took issue with the proposal to eliminate or severely cut the Child Tax Credit for immigrant families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Social Services Block Grant that assists the disadvantaged.
“The Catholic bishops of the United States recognize the serious deficits our country faces, and we acknowledge that Congress must make difficult decisions about how to allocate burdens and sacrifices, and balance resources and needs,” he wrote. “However, deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility efforts must protect and not undermine the needs of poor and vulnerable people. The proposed cuts to programs in the budget reconciliation fail this basic moral test.”
In addition, Jesuit priests, faculty and other administrators at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., signed and sent a letter to Ryan challenging his use of Catholic teaching to advocate for his budget plan.
“The U.S. Bishops’ response was right on the money,” said Deacon Donald Weigel, who helps coordinate the local delegation for Public Policy Day, an annual event that sees Catholics petition their leaders in Albany about issues important to the faith. “The reason why this has drawn such criticism is that it balances the budget on the backs of the poor. It just doesn’t pass the principles of what we think would be a moral budget.”
Many of the other United States bishops are concerned as well, as they voted to move ahead with a draft of a message on work and the economy to raise the profile of the country's growing poverty problem during their June USCCB meeting in Atlanta. The bishops are expected to vote on a final draft during their meeting in November.
For his part, Ryan defended his budget as a product of Catholic principals, arguing that it offers Americans better support and opportunity outside of government interference. During a speech at Georgetown in late April, he said Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” inspired the budget plan.
“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,” Ryan said. “Simply put, I don’t believe the preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for big government.”
When asked why the federal government should be the support system for the poor, Deacon Weigel explained that pushing the responsibility onto lower levels, such as state, county or even local municipal agencies, isn’t possible.
“It’s just not possible to recreate many of the federal programs that we have on a state or local level,” he said. “(The federal government) certainly is not perfect, but it’s an attempt to equalize all citizens.”
With the presidential election looming on the horizon, issues like the HHS mandate, the federal budget and even gay marriage are on the mind of religious advocates. The USCCB has continued to produce “Faithful Citizenship,” a series of resources that helps Catholics sort through many of the important issues critical to Church teaching. Deacon Weigel admits it can be difficult to be “pro-life and pro-poor” when neither of the major political parties supports both issues.
“A lot of people focus on the president, but let’s face it, we have choices to make who represents us at the state level and county level,” he said. “The bishops this year have done a particularly good job at dealing with Faithful Citizenship. What they have done is produce a tremendous number of wonderful resources on their website. They make it clear over and over again that choices are difficult. We are not a faith that is a single-issue faith and we have to take a look at a variety of things. It’s very tricky and nuanced. All of us ought to find it difficult, if we’re Catholics true to the core, to align ourselves with one party, because neither party really satisfies (Church teaching).”
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