Ryan’s comments and the Catholic divide

Comments U.S. Representative Paul Ryan made in a recent interview on CBN have brought Catholic social teaching into the spotlight – while serving to further highlight political differences within the nation’s largest Christian denomination.

Asked by interviewer David Brody to explain how his faith relates the Republican budget proposal he wrote, Ryan cited the principle of subsidiarity (raise your hand if you were raised Catholic and can define this principle. I was, and couldn’t), which he likened to federalism.

“Those principles are very, very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence.”

In a response, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Communications Director Graeme Zielinski called Ryan’s claims cynical.

“One need not be a Catholic to see that the Paul Ryan budget advantages the rich and powerful over working families and the poor. And it looks very much that Paul Ryan is animated by the teachings of someone in this document. That seems not to be the Catholic Church. Instead, it seems to be Ayn Rand.”

This is interesting to me as it plays out against the background of Rick Santorum’s now curtailed campaign for president. Santorum, like Ryan a conservative Catholic, did well with evangelical Christians, while exit polling seemed to indicate that Catholic voters in GOP primaries favored Mitt Romney. Check out what Russ Douthat has to say about the modern American Catholic Church.

“American Catholicism still pitches a wide enough tent to include members of both parties, but the church has long been divided into liberal and conservative factions that can seem as distant from one another as Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher.”

No doubt. On hot-button issues such as birth control, abortion, and homosexuality, Catholics have been divided for a long time. Now Ryan and Santorum have brought the role of the federal government, and the moral dimensions of the debt and deficit, into the mix as well.

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