Ryan speech in Atchison tests the faith in politics

Updated: 2013-04-29T04:04:22Z


The Kansas City Star

There’s folly in judging another man’s religious convictions.

Trouble to be had when the application of another’s faith is put under the microscope and enlarged for public scrutiny.

But former vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan ought to be used to such things. He opened the door for such criticism long ago by shaping a budget proposal that raised the ire of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said the plan conflicted with the guidance on Catholic social teaching.

The Catholic view boils down to this: When tough budget decisions must be made, you don’t go after the poor first.

Ryan, whose Catholicism part of his political persona, is to give the commencement address at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., on May 11.

Some people are not happy.

Some alumni want to cancel Ryan’s gig at the college. Little obvious support for dumping Ryan, so far, has come from the Benedictine student body. Still, some faculty are among the signers of a petition at that topped 235 backers on Sunday.

None of the criticism is new.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote letters starting in 2011 to note that plans to cut taxes on the wealthiest and shrink the social safety net weren’t exactly a heavenly example of putting the needs of the downtrodden first.

Ryan looked for a bishop to take his side. He wrote to Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, and argued that reining in spending also has moral implications. Dolan wrote back, noting Ryan’s point as valid and reiterating the church’s position that society needs to protect the poor.

Benedictine President Steve Minnis found cover in that back-and-forth exchange, deciding that budgetary issues offer room for debate.

As long as Ryan was stalwart on the specific dictates of the faith, like teachings on abortion, he’d be OK as a speaker at the Catholic institution.

Except that the positions that Ryan took during the campaign on abortion are not completely in line with Catholic doctrine. The Romney/Ryan ticket opposed abortion except in the case of rape, incest and the life of the mother. Catholic doctrine doesn’t allow for those exceptions.

Apparently, one dose of cafeteria Catholic is close enough.

This line from a release by the bishops conference gets to the heart of the budget matter and could be a great framework for a Catholic college course: A “just” budget solution would “require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs.”

Maybe Ryan will oblige and take a few well-framed questions after the commencement.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to

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