Press "Enter" to skip to content

Theologian Hammers Paul Ryan on Catholic Principles: Problem Is Smaller Government!

Last updated on 2014.06.18

A Facebook friend points me toward this intelligent essay from the Catholic America magazine explaining how budget-slashing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) gets poverty, the Pope, and the proper role of government egregiously wrong. Rep. Ryan has tried to justify his Ayn Randian anti-government philosophy in terms of Catholic social teaching. Theologian Gerald J. Bayer says Nope, don't think so.

Bayer's rebuttal is somewhat heady reading. Every word well deserves your effort. I humbly offer some highlights:

By its very nature, solidarity requires advocating social change on the structural level. This is the case because eliminating the causes of the suffering of the wounded and oppressed requires embodying solidarity in social policies and institutions. In other words, solidarity includes but goes beyond charity to promote justice and human rights, particularly by empowering the marginalized. Charity is important, but never sufficient to meet the needs of the poor, as Pope Benedict reminds us in Caritas in Veritate. Christians must thus foster the common good through "the institutional path—we might also call it the political path—of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbor directly." As John Paul II argued, the entire social, economic and political order should be shaped by the principle of solidarity [Gerald J. Bayer, "What Ryan Missed," America, 2012.06.04].

Government is not the enemy. It is not an aberration. It is a tool through which we all can and should work together to do justice and enact mercy.

Bayer speaks of Ryan's use of the term subsidiarity, the idea that solutions are better when carried out by the smallest group possible (i.e., better to have a local solution than a national solution). But some problems, like unchecked capitalism and concentration of wealth, are so big you must have a big government to address them:

Contrary to Ryan's imagination, the current pope has not embraced modern-day laissez faire capitalism or neoliberalism. Rather, Pope Benedict sees the redistribution of wealth through government programs as a necessary fulfillment of subsidiarity, given neoliberal capitalism's strong tendency to generate vast inequality and large swaths of poverty. At times, the pope even sounds a lot like Occupy Wall Street, albeit in slightly more Vaticanese terms: "grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution."

The pontiff clearly sees a robust role for government, which does not violate the principle of subsidiarity. In addition to wealth redistribution, governments should promote full employment and oversee multiple levels of institutions to ensure access to sufficient food and water. Benedict also decries the slashing of social safety nets and the evisceration of labor unions, which has jeopardized the rights of the poor and workers. He laments erosion of the "solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social State." If that doesn't vex Paul Ryan and Catholic neoconservatives enough, the pope contends that globalization must be governed by authorities at the local, national and international levels in order to foster "economic democracy" [Bayer, 2012.06.04].

Bayer looks at the weakening of welfare in 1996, the huge number of workers earning poverty wages, and our failure to regulate the financial sector, and concludes that Ryan's misreading of solidarity and subsidiarity leads us to a dysfunctional society where we fail to work together to fight poverty:

Ryan provides the wrong solutions to poverty for two reasons. As I have argued, he misinterprets solidarity and subsidiarity. He also misunderstands poverty's causes in the United States. Contrary to Ryan's contention, the causes of poverty are not rooted in an expansive government and a culture of dependency on hand-outs. Rather, it is rooted in government's failure to perform its duties in accordance with the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. In other words, "smaller government" caused the problem [Bayer, 2012.06.04].

Sounds like Rep. Ryan should have spent less time reading Atlas Shrugged and more time paying attention in catechism class.


  1. Steve Sibson 2012.05.31

    "Sounds like Rep. Ryan should have spent less time reading Atlas Shrugged and more time paying attention in catechism class."

    Cory, since you are an atheist you probably don't understand that the one-world religion will bring in the one-world government of the New World Order. The Pope is on record promoting the one-world socialist government. I am not bashing Catholics. I am warning them the same way I am warning conservatives about the liberal big government SDGOP Establishment.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.31

    Steve, this isn't about your fantasies. The point is that Ryan is citing Catholic doctrine to justify his argument. A Catholic theologian is telling him he's getting Catholic doctrine wrong.

  3. Steve Sibson 2012.05.31

    "A Catholic theologian is telling him he’s getting Catholic doctrine wrong."

    Cory, Catholic doctrine is mostly based on what the current Pope says it is. When it comes to the issue of socialism, they are all over the map.

  4. Bill Fleming 2012.05.31

    Yes, that's my understanding too. We're not to patronize the poor, we are to lock arms with them in solidarity as equals and fight for justice.

  5. Steve Sibson 2012.05.31

    "We’re not to patronize the poor, we are to lock arms with them in solidarity as equals and fight for justice."

    Where in the Bible is that?

  6. LK 2012.05.31

    I believe one can infer the principle from James 2:1-9

    2 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

    5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

    8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.


  7. Troy 2012.05.31

    This theologian is forgetting and ignoring one very important principle: the role of one's prudential judgment. Paul Ryan as discerned that federal solutions are ineffective and counterproductive to solving the issue of poverty. He is as free to advocate less government as this Theologian and the Pope are to advocate governmental solutions.

  8. Donald Pay 2012.05.31

    Sibson is one of those religious poseurs God warns us about in Amos Chapter 5. He loves to tell us all and make a big show about his Christian/Republican credentials and how no one else can be a Christian or a Republican who isn't anointed by Sibson or one of his disciples. Still, like a monkey at a typewriter, Sibson sometimes, by a purely random stumble through reality, gets it right.

    There are some good Catholic theologians who speak truth to power. Unfortunately, the power in the Catholic hierarchy are out of touch old men. They are like Sibson. Rarely they get it right.

    Paul Ryan is exactly the kind of person Sibson claims to to hate. Yet he worships this follower of Randian atheism like he's the second coming of Christ.

  9. Carter 2012.05.31

    Troy, I don't think anyone's saying Ryan can't make his own decisions. But, according to Catholics, the Pope makes the rules. What he says is what the Catholic faith believes. He can believe and say whatever he wants, but it's entirely reasonable for another Catholic to call him on it when he says that the Catholic Church stands for this when their leader (the guy who sets the standard for what they believe) says something else.

    I disagree with the Pope on most things (at least the things I know about, I don't follow the Pope much), but when he says we need more socialism, I'm right with him, personally. But that's just on that one issue.

    When he says the Catholic Church is against abortion, it would be a bold faced lie for me to say the Catholic Church is okay with it. When the Pope says socialism is good, saying that he says it's bad is, again, a bold faced lie.

  10. Aldo 2012.05.31


    Ryan is of course free to promote what he will. But, as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and this theologian have made clear - Ryan's budget proposal is absolutely contrary to Catholic doctrine.

    Thus Ryan's claim that his budget conforms to Catholic doctrine is completely false.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.31

    ...and that's a big point I agree with. Ryan can still make the argument that his budget is the right remedy for our fiscal needs, but he can't dress it up in his Catholicism.

  12. Bill Fleming 2012.05.31

    Nice to see you here, Aldo.

  13. D.E. Bishop 2012.05.31

    Bayer is right. Solidarity with the poor, on all levels, is a basic Red-letter Christian tenet, regardless of denomination. The Bible is brimming over with concerns for the poor, over any other issue. I believe it's in there 6000+ times, Old and New Testament.

    Ryan is simply wrong, and, as others have said, his assertions are in fact, lies.

  14. Troy 2012.05.31

    There is a distinction when the Pope speaks on matters of Morals and Values and policy. I can disagree with him saying the best way to serve the poor is a bigger government. That is a prudential judgment matter.

    If Ryan believes the best policy to serve the poor is a smaller federal government, his view is just as moral as the Popes. If his motive is to serve the rich, Ryan's view is immoral. Unless you can peer into his heart, you MUST take him at his word. To do otherwise is rash judgment.

  15. Aldo 2012.05.31


    Catholic doctrine on serving the poor is not a matter of personal opinion nor altered based on one's good intentions.

    Pelosi, Kerry, Biden and other Catholic officials may support legal abortion with the best of motives. But, their motives don't change the fact that abortion is contrary to Catholic doctrine.

    Ryan's view may be "moral" but, the USCCB, who know more about Catholic doctrine than you, me, or Ryan, have made clear that Ryan's budget, regardless Ryan's good intentions, is contrary to Catholic doctrine.

    So, for Ryan to claim his budget is consistent with Catholic doctrine is false.

  16. Troy 2012.05.31


    With all due respect to the Bishop's (and to you), they have no more standing on the best policy than Ryan, me or you. This is a matter of purdential judgment, where any Catholic with proper motives and full use of their reason and experience can disagree with the Bishops.

    Your analogy of abortion is wrong. They have deemed abortion "inherently and objectively evil." Unless there is something "ex cathedra" on a particular policy, a Catholic can hold the position with proper motive from a well-formed conscience.

    Our Bishop once made some statement regarding farm policy. I told him I disagreed. He asked if I had prayed about it. When I told him no, he said go pray about it and get back to him. When I told him later I was even more convicted on my view, he told me then to fight for it.

    The Bishop's have absolutely and unequivically no more authority on a matter for prudential judgment than Ryan, you or me. However, we always have an obligation to listen to them, pray about it, and then follow our conscience.

  17. Carter 2012.05.31

    You seem to be arguing and entirely different point than the rest of us, Troy.

    No one is saying that Ryan is wrong in regards to his policy (I will right now, but that's neither here nor there), or that he isn't allowed to hold it as a Catholic.

    What we've been saying, Troy, is that Ryan should not be equivocating his policy with Catholic Church policy. The policies are not the same. There are two possibilities:

    1) The Catholic position is socialist, like Benedict says, meaning Ryan's policy is the opposite of the Catholic position.

    2) The Catholic Church does not have a position, meaning Ryan's policy is, by default, not in line with the Catholic policy because there is no Catholic policy.

    The issue isn't that he shouldn't have certain viewpoints because he is Catholic, but he shouldn't be touting his plan as a plan that is what is roughly what is taught by Catholics. His beliefs and morality are not being questioned by anyone here. It's the fact that he is overtly lying by telling people that his policy is Catholic policy.

  18. Aldo 2012.05.31


    As I wrote, the USCCB, who know more about Catholic doctrine than you, me, or Ryan, have made clear that Ryan’s budget, regardless Ryan’s good intentions, is contrary to Catholic doctrine.

    In their second letter to congress on the issue the USCCB wrote: "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. 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."

    The USCCB does have more standing on Catholic doctrine than you or me and they have found Ryan's budget to fail the most basic of moral tests and so to be out of line with Catholic doctrine. In that respect, where Ryan's proposal flies in the face of Church teaching, his position is analogous to those of Pelosi, Kerry, et al has he tries to make something seem Catholic which is not Catholic at all.

    The bishops also know more than you or I about prudential judgement as it relates to Catholic doctrine and clearly they see it does not apply in this case.

    As the USCCB wrote in "Forming Consciences For Faithful Citizenship - Part II - Applying Catholic Teaching To Major Issues: A Summary Of Policy Positions Of The United States Conference Of Catholic Bishops" about application of prudential judgement - "Catholics cannot ignore their inescapable moral challenges or simply dismiss the Church's guidance or policy directions that flow from these principles."

    Yet that is what Ryan is doing with a budget that fails the most basic moral test of meeting the needs of the poor and the vulnerable – he is dismissing the Church's guidance and policy directions.

  19. Aldo 2012.05.31


    The Catholic Church certainly does not support socialism.

    That has been made clear by any number of Popes up to and including Pope Benedict who wrote: “The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person − every person − needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. … In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) − a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, December 25, 2005, n. 28)

    As Pope Benedict wrote, the best principle in accordance with Catholic doctrine is subsidiarity. Ryan claims his budget is based in that philosophy but, as the USCCB have pointed out, Ryan's budget simply pulls the rug out from under the helpless without providing means or opportunities for other, more local support. In fact one element of Ryan's budget actually cuts money that would be applied at more local levels.

  20. LK 2012.05.31

    New definitions of irony: (1) Catholics arguing like Baptists on an Atheist's blog. (2) A Catholic arguing against the USCCB while an Atheist supports USCCB.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.05.31

    The pragmatist chooses his allies battle by battle, right, LK?

  22. larry kurtz 2012.06.01

    Smokescreen, boys.

    The International Criminal Court is building a case against the Vatican. France's new president could very easily call for the seizure of all the Church's assets making its hypocritical legal argument in the US its swan song.

    They have the right to remain silent. Anything the suspect says can be used against him. They have the right to have an attorney present before and during the questioning and they have the right, if they can't afford an attorney, to have a attorney appointed at public expense to represent them before and during the questioning.

  23. Troy 2012.06.01


    The Catholic Church is clear with regard to doctrine with regard to a preferential option for the poor. However, specific programs, approaches are not doctrine.

    Your quote above is very appropriate. Everytime the Bishop's speak on a matter, even an appeal to formation of my prudential judgment, I take it serious (as I believe Ryan does). But, if after prayer and the use of our reason we reach a policy decision differently, we are called to follow it.

  24. larry kurtz 2012.06.01

    "After a special meeting this week in Washington, the 21-member board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious issued a statement calling the Vatican report “unsubstantiated “ and saying it has “caused scandal and pain” and exacerbated polarization throughout the Catholic church community." WaPo.

    Men suck.

  25. LK 2012.06.01

    I guess I can move from appreciating irony to appreciating alliteration: "In politics there no permanent enemies,no permanent friends,but there must be permanent principle."

    I must be going through classroom withdrawal

  26. Aldo 2012.06.01


    As I noted above, Ryan is free to follow whatever path he chooses. I think no one is disputing that. That is a matter between Ryan and his confessor.

    But, for Ryan to publicly claim his budget proposal is consistent with Catholic doctrine is, as the USCCB has made clear, 100% false.

    Ryan damages his faith by attempting to use it as cover for a budget which the bishops have recognized fails the most basic of moral tests.

  27. larry kurtz 2012.06.01

    bishops with moral tests: beat me with a mitre.

  28. Julie Gross (NE) 2012.08.13

    --Government is not the enemy. It is not an aberration. It is a tool through which we all can and should work together to do justice and enact mercy

    The gov't can and does INJUSTICE, then yes, it is the enemy. Time & time again we see it--here & abroad. Sometimes in major ways (slavery), sometimes in minor ways (vehicle stop).

    JUSTICE does NOT come from or through gov't! Why is that so difficult for you socialists to appreciate?

  29. Julie Gross (NE) 2012.08.13

    --bishops with moral tests: beat me with a mitre.

    Mullahs with moral tests; beat me with a turban.

    Wow, sounds rather bigoted, doesn't it?

  30. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.08.13

    Individuals do injustice. The Church does injustice. Corporations do injustice. Sounds like everyone is the enemy, Julie. But government is the entity we create to protect justice, a job we cannot leave to individuals, the Church, or corporations. Explain to me how one gets justice, if not from government. Otherwise, quit braying.

Comments are closed.