USCCB’s Dolan Blesses Ryan Budget

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has given his blessing to Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal, laying it out in a letter touted by Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner, both Catholics.

Boehner apparently sought Dolan’s blessing after being criticized by Catholic academics prior to his commencement speech at the Catholic University of America last weekend, over Republican proposals to cut programs that serve the poor and make permanent the Bush tax cuts for the super rich. That letter read, in part:

Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the church’s most ancient moral teachings. From the apostles to the present, the magisterium of the church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.

As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has documented, “cuts in low-income programs appear likely to account for at least $2.9 trillion — or nearly two-thirds” of the $4.5 trillion in cuts in the Ryan proposal, including cuts to Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps, and other programs. CBPP president Robert Greenstein said of the Ryan budget:

Taken together, its proposals would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation’s history.

But Dolan says in his letter to Ryan that the Republicans are upholding Catholic social teaching:

As is so clear from your correspondence, the light of our faith – anchored in the Bible, the tradition of the Church, and the Natural Law – can help illumine and guide solid American constitutional wisdom. Thus 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.

Dolan’s election as president of the USCCB last year prompted criticism that this “culture warrior” would intensify the bishops’ attacks on LGBT and reproductive rights. But as Marian Ronan wrote in these pages, Dolan’s culture war interests extend further (emphasis added):

In recent weeks, the two most influential Catholic magazines in the US, Commonweal, and America, have published articles about major crises currently facing the US Church. In America, Vincent Miller argues that Catholic social teaching on the obligation to care for the poor, as well as the essential role of government in the common good, is under massive attack. In Commonweal, Peter Steinfels zeroes in on the nearly 30 million men and women—a third of all the Catholics in the country—who have left the Church.

As Miller, the Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, predicted in the piece that Ronan cited: “A new Republican majority in the house, led by a Catholic Speaker, plans to respond to the economic crisis by extending tax cuts for the rich and defunding health care reform—which means those portions that subsidize insurance for the working poor.” And he lamented that “[t]hese profound rejections of Catholic teaching and corrosion of the common good demand an effective episcopal response, yet too often, no response at all is given.”

Now Dolan has given a response, and Ryan and Boehner are making sure the world knows where he stands.