Don’t Let Paul Ryan Become a Religious Lightning Rod

The selection of Paul Ryan has intensified the fight between conservative and liberal Catholics, but branding politicians as "un-Christian" can be bad religion

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Republican vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks at a campaign event at Miami University on August 15, 2012 in Oxford, Ohio.

The Roman Catholic Church has a reputation for clubbiness. (A Protestant arrives in heaven and asks St. Peter if he can visit some of his old Catholic friends. “Best if you didn’t,” Peter tells him. “They think they’re the only ones here.”) Catholics are just as prone to turn that overweening sense of orthodoxy on each other. Doctrinal hardliners never tire of telling dissenters like myself, especially those who are politicians, that we’re not “real” Catholics — many contend we should be denied communion — because our Christian as well as civic consciences have led us to support women’s ordination or legal, if limited, abortion rights.

But since Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tapped conservative Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate last weekend, many liberal Catholics have decided it’s their turn to play the pearly gates-keeper. Ryan, a Catholic, has in the past come under fire from even the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for his more Darwinian political ideas — especially his budget philosophy, which critics charge coddles the rich while hammering the poor and middle class — and this week more than a few progressive Catholics have doubted if not disparaged Ryan’s own Catholic bona fides. His cold-hearted betrayal of charitable Catholic social teaching, they insist, makes him unfit to call himself Christian or Catholic.

(MORE: Is Paul Ryan’s Budget Un-Christian?)

If this is where U.S. Catholics are headed between now and the Nov. 6 election, then I’ll be the first to admit that we all need to chill, hum a little Gregorian Chant and ponder our internecine differences a bit more carefully. As Los Angeles Times editorial writer Michael McGough put it this week, the anti-Ryan barrage is “the latest installment of a tiresome debate between liberal and conservative Catholics about which faction’s favored politicians are truer to the teachings of Mother Church.” How we practice our faith in the public sphere does matter. But we’ve reached a point where the battle to define what’s politically proper Catholicism, and what’s Catholically proper politics, has begun to demean the religion.

It’s not that I think Catholics shouldn’t question Ryan’s policy agenda if they feel it contradicts Christ’s call to aid the poor. Likewise, they ought to question the pro-choice position of Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, if they feel it contradicts their faith’s teaching on abortion. I’ve often called some of the Vatican’s doctrines and policies un-Christian and un-Catholic when they involve less than humane impulses like misogyny, homophobia or the protection of pedophile priests. Still, just as I don’t like anyone calling for my excommunication because I don’t obey Rome, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to assert that someone is a bad Catholic because he or she does obey Rome, because he or she defends an all-male priesthood or a ban on gay marriage. And in Ryan’s case because he believes, however disingenuous he might sound, that reducing our dangerous deficit and breaking people’s dependence on government squares with his religion’s call to alleviate poverty.

(MORE: Why the Ryan Pick Won’t Bring Clarity to the Budget Debate)

It’s one thing for me to take my feelings about Ryan’s controversial thinking into the ballot booth and pass judgment on whether or not he’s fit to govern — and yes, my interpretation of Catholicism may very well play a large role in how I vote in that regard. But it’s something else, as McGough points out, to proclaim that Ryan’s Tea Party views make him “a worse Catholic than [Catholic] politicians who favor abortion rights like Rep. Nancy Pelosi.” If anything, by taking that larger step, liberal Catholics risk sounding like Vatican hardliners.

A large part of the problem is that the Catholic vote, like the Latino and women’s vote, is considered one of the most important blocs to court in this presidential election. We represent almost a quarter of the electorate, and we’re a particularly independent-minded cohort — evidenced by polls that show a majority of U.S. Catholics disagree with the Vatican on a host of issues, including abortion. As a result, the media, especially now that Ryan is on the GOP ticket opposite Biden, are eager to sharpen the fissure between conservative and liberal Catholics. According to that cable news scenario, the two sides are supposed to pummel each other rhetorically for the next 12 weeks and let politics, in effect, decide once and for all who the “real” Catholics are.

It’s great theater, but it’s lousy theology. And I think, to his credit, even the head of the USCCB, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has realized that by ignoring hardliner criticism and inviting President Obama, who backs abortion rights, as well as Romney to the New York archdiocese’s charitable Al Smith dinner in October.

(MORE: Why We’re Still Catholics)

The more immediate question, though, is whether Ryan really helps Romney with Catholics. Before he picked Ryan, Romney trailed Obama among Catholics — who went for Obama by a 54-to-45 margin in 2008 — by five points, 45% to 50%, in a recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll. Ryan, who is socially as well as fiscally right wing — he co-sponsored some of Congress’ most draconian anti-abortion bills in recent years — is certainly a boon to conservative Catholics. But they’re not who Romney needs to pick up; and Ryan, though he galvanizes the GOP base, isn’t likely to deliver many additional Catholic voters.

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, introduced its “Catholics for Obama” crew this week, led by liberal luminaries like Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of the late Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. Their job is to convince Catholic voters that Obama isn’t the menace to religious freedom that the U.S. bishops call him, due to his administration’s mandate that church-based institutions like universities and hospitals provide birth control coverage in their health insurance. But you can bet that more of their time, energy and money will be spent persuading Catholics that Ryan is a menace to Catholic social teaching. For both sides, branding candidates as anti-Catholic might be effective politics. Just don’t call it good religion.

MORE: The Catholic Contraction 

133 comments
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tbk1962
tbk1962

This is a thoughtful, well written article. It is rare today to read anything in the media that is not propaganda for one side or another. News is no longer news, but spin. While Mr. Padgett identifies himself as a liberal Catholic, his point is not to bash the conservative Catholic Ryan. His point, I believe, is to identify the dilemma many well-meaning Catholics face in the ballot box. Catholics are taught, rightfully, that our faith should inform our consciousness and our participation in the body politic. The dilemma, as Padgett points out, is that Catholic moral and social teaching breaches the boundaries of our American political parties. Both parties embrace positions that are consistent with Catholic teachings, and both parties embrace positions that are contrary to Catholic teachings. So what is a "good" Catholic to do?

ChowT
ChowT

My name is Mitt Romney. I worked hard very hard indeed to maximise profits for myself and my pirate capitalist. I worked very hard sending jobs to the commies so that i am a billionaire.You people are lazy. You dont doesnt even to eat. I am for the 1%. I am only for the mormon community.

You see we can have multiple wives. Very soon we will multiply like Rabbits. And we will control America.

We are used to living on the lap of luxury. Every dollar we cheat from you goes to my bottomline. Thats what is important. I dont like to pay taxes, Therefore I hide my earnings overseas. I pay lower taxes than ' you people' as I am smart.

Vote for Mitt Romney, as I can trickle some of my mormon fairy dust for you to live on.

Ann says' you people' have no right to see how much taxes I pay, shove it.

ChowT
ChowT

groovecity, Gopers are getting soooooooooooooooooo greedy.

Look at who is backing the GOP...

1) The Dough-Nut

2) Sidney pledged 100m, effectively having Purchased Mitt Romney. Done deal Mitt Romney have beedn sold to the casinoes industry.

3) Dickey Chenney - planning a new war to make more money

4) Ugly Condi- the  Ugly professor who scprited 2 fake wars.

5)Wall street con man, because they could not have their way with Obama.

GOP are practising Economic segration.

GOP are fighting for the 1% to be more richer (nothing wrong) at the expense of the workers, middle class and ' you people.

GOP do not respect Women. They can be raped legitimately.

When pregnant they cant decide.

Gop= Gopers= me, me and more me! hahahahahahah

ChowT
ChowT

Mitt Romney is a fraud. In order to make up for all the fraud in his life, Religion is his only card.

Look at Mitt Romney, I have paid my taxes but I cant show you.

Wow, Americans must be 'stupid' enough to believe. I dont think so.

But Gophers in their hate for Obama will support Mitt Romney for all the wrong reason in their hatred for Obama.

For all the donations that Mitt Romney claims to have given to the mormon church, given Mitt Romney unsavoury past, there is always a possibility that Mitt Romney is actually making money out of the Church.

On one hand Mitt Romney gives one dollar to the mormon Church, Mitt Romney can make 10 times more !

Mitt Romney is a crook, liar and just want to be president.

Now he has outsourced all the thinking to Ryan,

Ryan is just a upstart also using religion to further his politacal career.

I dont trust Ryan anymore than I trust Mitt.

R an R are the candidates of the rich, by the  rich and for the rich to get richer.

And R and R wants more tax cuts for the rich while persuing welfare and entitlement cuts for the poor.

ChowT
ChowT

'you people. lest be real. Dont expect Gopers to be charitable.

If Gopers steals a little bit less that will be heaven sent.

If Gopers pays their fair share of taxes, that will be heaven sent.

Gopers loves their money so much they want more from the poor, more tax cuts for the 1% and more welfare cuts for the poor.

Palladia
Palladia

I've been thinking. . . The term "Gopers" needs a little "h" in it.

After all, what do gophers do?  They burrow underground, grubbing, and mess up the lawn for everybody else.  The only effective solution to gophers' damage is to get rid of the grubs. . . which are larvae that hatch out into something else.  This is something like a lot of GOP positions and actions which look like one thing, but morph into something very different.

ChowT
ChowT

hahahahahahahahahahaha! Gophers !

Gophers preach love and practice hate.

Gophers preach charity, but dont pay taxes.

Gophers claims they have paid 13% tax but wont show tax returns.

Gophers says they want to help the poor, but wants more cuts in welfare, and more tax cuts for the super rich.

Gophers says ' you people' are lazy and dont want to work, but the poor workers have been sasked by Bain aka Mitt Romney and all the jobs are in China.

Gophers says if you are out of job, you cant eat. How evil

Gophers are a disgrace to religion. No wonder given a survey most people dont believe in religion ad they feel what Gophers preach and practice are not the same.

Gophers want it all and ' you people eat cake' shove it.

Palladia
Palladia

Interestingly, a recent survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that poorer people donate a larger share of their discretionary income to charitable causes than do wealthy people, and that wealthy people who live in "diverse" neighborhoods are more generous than wealthy people who live in neighborhoods where there are only other wealthy people.  "Out of sight, out of mind" seems to be the situation.

The Chronicle of Philosophy studied IRS information and cross-referenced it with Zip codes.  This gives more reliable information than "self-reporting" surveys.

Utah, the home of the LDS, was a leading state in contributions, but the Mormons require tithing, so that might account for a lot of it.

I have wondered whether the real reason that Mitt Romney is so intransigent about his tax returns is not because of what the voters might learn, as what the Mormons might discover.  I think that Reid is also a Mormon.

Jai Singh
Jai Singh

paul ryan is best in his way

ChowT
ChowT

The polygamy aspect of mormonism is the most attractive part of the Myth religion.

It is all sex. sex and more sex.

Mitt Romney loves it.ormonisn, wow with all the sex involved.

wupbetak
wupbetak

The real discussion should not be about Rep. Ryan's particular flavor of Catholic doctrine, but rather about his allegiance to the philosophy of Ayn Rand (whose books he requires his staff to read).  Ms. Rand was decidedly atheistic and anti-Christian and demanded that her "followers" choose between her and Jesus.  The question for Mr. Ryan is which choice has he made in his life and politics?

wupbetak
wupbetak

For Rep. Ryan, it isn't his Catholic orthodoxy which should be debated, but his professed allegiance to the teachings of Ayn Rand (whose books are required reading for his staff) - Ms. Rand was decidedly anti-Christian and demanded that "followers" "choose between me and Jesus."  My question for Mr. Ryan is which choice he has made with his life and politics.

Palladia
Palladia

Given Ryan's actions and "causes," what do you think?

ChowT
ChowT

Ryan loves money above all else.

Patricia75
Patricia75

As a liberal Catholic, it is hard to be quiet about Paul Ryan. I have had to sit through sermons by my priest and a video by my bishop telling me how terrible Obama is for requiring religious organizations' insurance companies to pay for contraceptives. I think it is reasonable of me to ask where are the sermons and videos in Mass explaining why the bishops are against Paul Ryan's plan.

Palladia
Palladia

One of the problems with this situation is that from the point of view of conservative Catholics, there is no such thing as a "liberal Catholic."  It's a contradiction in terms to them.  The Church is looking at another schism, and does not seem to grasp the seriousness of the problem: a situation which has occurred before.

audiM
audiM

Republicans want poor people to become middleclass, and middleclass to become well to do etc.  Liberals want to keep the poor poor.

Bilosopher
Bilosopher

Which famous (or infamous) philosopher wrote: ...'religion is the opiate of the masses'? With all the drug addicts in America, we certainly know the many 'benefits' of opiates.

Jimivu
Jimivu

Many Christians like myself are sick of right-wing politics blamed on the Bible. Jesus said "give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and give unto Me what is Mine." That means: Separation of Church and State. Politics and religion are a deadly mix.