Anti-Catholic Media Claim Paul Ryan is not Catholic Enough
By Paul Wilson | September 03, 2012
Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan is a Catholic – but not a good enough Catholic in the eyes of the media. Writers, bloggers, and talking heads have hammered Ryan for his supposed “dissent” from Catholic teaching.
Journalists have falsely claimed that the bishops “rebuked” Ryan and called his budget “un-Christian.” Writers who usually scorn the Church and its hierarchy fretted that the bishops found Ryan’s budget “uncompassionate.”
The media have painted Ryan as exhibiting heartlessness towards the poor, claiming that the Wisconsin congressman subscribes to Ayn Rand’s morality “of selfishness.” Time’s Erika Christakis asked: “Is Paul Ryan’s Budget Unchristian?”
Many journalists have questioned the depth of his Catholicism because of his supposed lack of concern for the poor, branding him a “champion of dissent” and declaring that politicized left-wing nuns are better Catholics than him. One writer even questioned whether Ryan should be excommunicated.
If only the media devoted half so much attention to the deviations from the Catholic faith of Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. But they refuse to do so – on August 22, MSNBC contributor Jimmy Williams favorably compared Biden’s Catholicism to Ryan’s on “Martin Bashir Live:” “But the point is that he’s far more progressive and more, frankly, in line when it comes to the Church’s teachings and I think the Catholic bishops and the nuns will tell that. Perhaps not on the abortion issue, but certainly on how you take care of the needy and poor.”
Ryan Rebuked by Bishops?
Ironically, journalists notorious for bashing the Catholic hierarchy breathlessly reported that “Catholic bishops” chastised Ryan over his proposed budget. New York Times harridan Maureen Dowd managed to do both in one sentence, snidely remarking in an August 18 column: “Even Catholic bishops, who had to be dragged toward compassion in the pedophilia scandal, were dismayed at how uncompassionate Ryan’s budget was.”
Other journalists claimed that the bishops also “rebuked” Ryan. Melinda Henneberger of the Post wrote: “But this spring, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops took the unusual step of repudiating the deep cuts envisioned in Ryan’s budget proposal as out of keeping with the teachings of Jesus.” The Post’s Dana Milbank went further, arguing in an April 27 op-ed that “There is something un-Christian about the Gospel According to Paul Ryan. So, at least, says Ryan’s Catholic Church.”
The charge stems from the fact that a committee of the USCCB (The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, opposed “cuts” made by the Ryan budget: “I write to urge you to resist for moral and human reasons unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition programs [that would] hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong.” The letter was signed by Bishop Stephen Blaire, Bishop of Stockton.
However, this committee did not speak for all the bishops, as noted in section 455 §4 in the Code of Canon Law: “In cases where neither the universal law nor a special mandate of the Apostolic See gives the Episcopal Conference the power mentioned in §1, the competence of each diocesan bishop remains intact. In such cases, neither the Conference nor its president can act in the name of all the bishops unless each and every bishop has given his consent.” In other words, the bishops did not “rebuke” Paul Ryan.
Ryan was not without defenders in the Catholic hierarchy. Ryan sent the bishops a letter arguing the moral case for his proposed budget. Archbishop Timothy Dolan responded: “I commend your letter’s attention to the important values of fiscal responsibility; sensitivity to the foundational role of the family; the primacy of the dignity of the human person and the protection of all human life; a concrete solicitude for the poor and the vulnerable, especially those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty; and putting into practice the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, here at home and internationally within the context of a commitment to the common good shared by government and other mediating institutions alike.”
Ryan’s own bishop, Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, wrote an open letter to his diocese, declaring: “Thus, it is not up to me or any bishop or priest to approve of Congressman Ryan’s specific budget prescription to address the best means we spoke of. Where intrinsic evils are not involved, specific policy choices and political strategies are the province of Catholic lay mission. But, as I’ve said, Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above.”
‘Champion of Dissent’ Promoting ‘Un-Christian’ Budget
Attacks on the faith of conservative Catholic politicians are common in the journalistic world. During the presidential primary, Lisa Miller asserted in the Post that “[Republican presidential primary candidate Rick] Santorum is not, in fact, all that Catholic,” calling him a “cherry-picking Catholic” and a “cafeteria Catholic.”
Paul Ryan now faces similar treatment. Time’s Erika Christakis launched the oddest argument against Ryan’s Christianity, with an August 14 article titled “Is Paul Ryan’s Budget Un-Christian?” Christakis attempted to justify a high tax rate by using the Bible, writing: “As near as we can tell, Jesus would advocate a tax rate somewhere between 50% (in the vein of “If you have two coats, give one to the man who has none”) and 100% (if you want to get into heaven, be poor).”
Christakis makes no distinction between private charity and government programs, and ignores the fact that Jesus says absolutely nothing about people being forced to give their wealth to the government to (theoretically) redistribute to others.
Christakis was the most unhinged of a range of critics. The Daily Beast’s Abigail Pesta interviewed Sister Simone Campbell, leader of a group of nuns opposed to Ryan, and began a flattering piece with the inflammatory opening: “Sister Simone Campbell says she is on a mission to protect the poor – from Rep. Paul Ryan.” CNN and theWashington Post have also frequently given these nuns a megaphone.
Jezebel’s Katie Baker asked: “Who’s the better Catholic: Paul Ryan or Sister Simone Campbell, who recently led a rollicking group of nuns on a cross-country tour to protest Ryan’s budget bill? We think Jesus would choose Sister Simone.” (A site named for a evil pagan queen in the Bible is probably not the best judge of authentic Catholic living.)
Others were blunter. Michael Sean Winters of the liberal National Catholic Reporter went so far as to call Paul Ryan a “champion of dissent” in an August 11 column. The Los Angeles Times’ Michael McGough introduced an otherwise insightful August 14 piece on the differences between liberal and conservative Catholics by asking: “Forget about whether he should be elected vice president. Should Paul D. Ryan be excommunicated?”
It is important to note that there can be legitimate disagreement among Catholics about prudential matters. For example, there can be disagreement about the best method of taking care of the poor. But for Catholics, there can be no disagreement about fundamental principles, such as the obligation to take care of the poor, or about the necessity to respect life from conception to natural death, and at every point in between.
Bishop Morlino put it best in his open letter: “These are conclusions about the best means to promote the preferential option for the poor, or the best means to reach a lower percentage of unemployment throughout our country. No one is contesting here anyone’s right to the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. Nor is anyone contesting someone’s right to work and so provide for self and family. However there can be difference according to how best to follow the principles which the Church offers.”
Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand
Commentators have attacked Paul Ryan for his stated admiration for portions of avowed atheist Ayn Rand’s philosophy. (Ironic, considering the media’s love of atheism in other contexts.) Even Ryan’s stated denial of the atheistic portions of Rand’s philosophy has not sated journalistic critics.
Stephen Prothero of CNN’s Belief Blog harshly denounced Ryan, arguing, “for years, Ryan and other conservative Republicans have been trying to have their Jesus Christ and their Ayn Rand, too. But the two clash at least as much as an Obama/Ryan ticket.” He then played the part of the moral critic: “But as Jesus once said, “By your fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16), and I for one still see much more Rand than Jesus in Ryan’s Robin Hood budget.”
The New Yorker’s Jane Meyer declared on August 11: “Ayn Rand Joins the Ticket:” “Mitt Romney adds more to the Republican ticket than youth, vigor, and the possibility of carrying Wisconsin—he also adds the ghostly presence of the controversial Russian émigré philosopher and writer Ayn Rand.”
The Huffington Post went ballistic over Ryan’s supposed connection to Rand. Tobias Barrington’s August 14 article was representative of this hysteria: “Mr. Ryan has told us what his governing value would be: Ayn Rand’s brand of Selfishness.”
The left’s charge of worshipping Rand flies in the face of Ryan’s own statements on Rand. Ryan has stated: “I later in life learned about what her philosophy was, it’s called Objectivism. It’s something that I completely disagree with. It’s an atheistic philosophy. But I think what she’s done is she’s showed – she came from communism. She showed how the pitfalls of socialism can hurt the economy, can hurt people, families and individuals and that to me was very compelling novels. Which says freedom, free enterprise, liberty is so much better than totalitarianism and socialism. Those novels, I thought were interesting. But her philosophy, which is different, is something I just don’t agree with.”
Shockingly, it is indeed possible to agree with certain principles of a thinker’s philosophy while rejecting others. Too bad the media refuses to recognize this basic point.
Religion and the Media
Journalists are notorious for their hostility towards the Church, complaining (among other things) that the Church covers up for child molesters and controls women. Now, they deem themselves fit to judge whether a Catholic is worthy of the title.
Religion, for the left, has become a weapon to use against conservatives whenever convenient. It is breathtaking hypocrisy for a group that loathes Catholicism to lecture a Catholic on his lack of obedience to the Faith.
Mitt Romney has already been slammed in the media for his Mormon faith. Paul Ryan is merely the latest target of the self-appointed arbiters of faith in the media.
Paul Wilson is the Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media for the Media Research Center’s Culture & Media Institute and Business & Media Institute.