Archbishop Dolan, Rep. Ryan talk Catholic social teaching in budget debate
By Kevin J. Jones
Rep. Paul Ryan and Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops' conference
Rep. Paul Ryan and Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops' conference

.- U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York has praised Rep. Paul Ryan’s  (R-Wis.) attention to Catholic social teaching in the federal budget debate, but he emphasized the need for “special consideration” for the poor.

“In any transition that seeks to bring new proposals to current problems in order to build a better future, care must be taken that those currently in need not be left to suffer,” Archbishop Dolan said in a May 19 letter. While the bishops appreciate assurances that the budget will be attentive to these concerns, their duty as pastors will motivate their “close attention” to the reality of the House’s proposed budget.

Rep. Ryan had sent a four-page April 29 letter to Archbishop Dolan defending the proposal.

“Catholic Americans are blessed to have the social teaching of the Church as moral guidance as we consider legislative proposals such as the Fiscal Year 2012 Budget,” the congressman wrote. He said there was a moral obligation “implicit” in Catholic social teaching to address “difficult basic problems before they explode into social crisis.”

Ryan cited a passage from Pope John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical “Centisimus Annus” which criticized the “social assistance state” for leading to “an inordinate increase of public agencies” dominated by bureaucratic thinking and accompanied by an “enormous increase in spending” and “a loss of human energies.”

Ryan also cited the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” claiming that the House budget was informed by the principle of subsidiarity. This principle holds that higher-level social associations should not do what lower-level associations can.

Archbishop Dolan, who is president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, responded in a May 18 letter saying he “deeply” appreciates Ryan’s assurances of his attention to Catholic social justice.

“As you allude to in your letter, the budget is not just about numbers.  It reflects the very values of our nation,” Archbishop Dolan wrote.

The archbishop also cited “Centisimus Annus,” noting it stated that the poor have a claim to “special consideration” in defending the rights of individuals. He also noted that the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, the commitment to the common good of all, are “interrelated.”

The archbishop said that the Catholic faith, anchored in the Bible, Church tradition and the natural law, can help guide “solid American constitutional wisdom.” He commended the letter’s attention to the dignity of the human person, the poor and the vulnerable, and the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity.

“The principles of Catholic social teaching contain truths that need to be applied,” the archbishop continued, noting the necessity of “prudential judgment” in applying these principles.

Archbishop Dolan wrote that he hoped the exchange of letters will be the beginning of an ongoing dialogue in service of the country and “the religious convictions that have always inspired sound citizenship and generous public service.”

Negotiations in Washington are underway to agree upon a budget in exchange for raising the national debt limit. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has demanded $2 trillion in budget cuts, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has said closing tax loopholes should also be considered. Reid’s suggestion aside, Democrats have yet to unveil their own federal budget proposal.

On May 19 Speaker Boehner said that he welcomed Archbishop Dolan’s letter and that he was encouraged by the dialogue between House Republicans and the bishops.

“Our nation’s current fiscal path is a threat to human dignity in America, offering empty promises to the most vulnerable among us and condemning our children to a future limited by debt,” he said.

Echoing Ryan’s letter, he said “Americans are blessed to have the teachings of the Church available to us as guidance as we confront our challenges together as a nation.”

Ryan’s letter to Archbishop Dolan said the House budget is a “path to prosperity” that outlines “overdue reforms” of the safety net programs for working and poor families. He said he wrote his letter to advance “informed debate” in light of Catholic social teaching.

The congressman said that the “explosive growth” of government debt, propelled by “uncontrolled spending,” threatens an economic crisis. He blamed both political parties for “reckless overspending” and warned that a crisis would hurt the weakest through rising costs, “drastic” cuts and the collapse of individual support for charities they rely on.

He said the House budget will reduce deficits by $4.4 trillion over the next decade compared to President Barack Obama’s proposal. Entitlement spending, he warned, will soon take up 100 percent of federal revenues and leave “literally no dollars for defense, education, infrastructure, or even administration.”

Rep. Ryan said it was incorrect for critics to say that the budget cuts taxes for the rich. In his view, it prevents tax increases on families and job creators.

He also touted specific provisions of the bill such as the consolidation of government job training programs and the protection of Medicare from insolvency. Under the budget proposal, he said, Medicare would not change for current or near retirees.

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April 23, 2014

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