The 2012 Catholic quandary: Is Ryan or Biden ‘more Catholic’?

By Jessica Huseman

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan was an interesting one for many reasons. It may redefine what Medicare is, it may indicate how jazzed Republicans are about actually rehauling Social Security and Medicare, but it may also be a national indicator of what “the least of these” means to America’s Catholics.

GOP VP pick Paul Ryan and current Vice President Joe Biden are both Catholic – and they both lean on their faith as something that informs for their polar opposite politics. This is going to create an interesting situation for the country’s Catholic population – who make up about 24 percent of America’s adults, and who may be forced to choose what their religion means to them.

As a Catholic myself, I’ve grown up hearing the phrase “the least of these” in reference to whom we, as Catholics, are biblically bound to serve. But in politics, this phrase has many definitions. For Democrats, who preach that they are best in line with the social justice teachings of the Church, that phrase means the poor and the elderly. For Republicans, who fall back on the Church’s teachings on abortion and reproductive rights, that phrase means the unborn. Either way, it can be argued that both parties are leaving out a chunk of what the Catholic Church preaches in its Sunday masses.

Both Ryan and Biden have received their tongue lashings from the Catholic Church. What will matter is which teachings Americas Catholics believe are the most important.

Paul Ryan by Gage Skidmore

Ryan and the Catholic Church

After Ryan released his budget, the leaders of the Catholic Church rose up against his stripping of Medicare, tax cuts for the rich and the removal of 8 million people from the food stamp program. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a letter decrying his budget as against the moral teachings of the church in protecting “the least of these.”

“A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly,” read the letter.

So contentious was the Ryan budget that a group of nuns went on a nine-state bus tour called “Nuns on a Bus” to speak out against it.

Ryan’s budget was against “church teaching about solidarity, inequality, the choice for the poor, and the common good. That’s wrong,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.

But all the while, Paul Ryan defended his budget based on tenants of his Catholic faith. In an interview with CBN, Ryan said: ” “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.”

Campbell disagreed with his logic.

“Many politicians offer deeply flawed theological justifications for the federal budget. They ought to get some theological help,” Campbell said.

As those nuns toured the nation, some of the United States’ most respected Catholic institutions, Georgetown University, saw 90 of its faculty and staff called Ryan out in a letter for using Catholic teachings to justify his budget.

“Our problem with Representative Ryan is that he claims his budget is based on Catholic social teaching,” said Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese, one of the organizers of the letter and a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.. “This is nonsense. As scholars, we want to join the Catholic bishops in pointing out that his budget has a devastating impact on programs for the poor.”

Joe Biden by Tommy Gilligan/ USMA PAO

Biden and the Catholic Church

Biden has not escaped similar criticism. Because Biden is an advocate for gay marriage, government provided birth control and the right of women to obtain legal abortion, the Church has been up in arms about his politics as well.

This spring, the administration championed a plan that, in part, forced Catholic churches to provide birth control to its employees through the healthcare the church provided. This was described by Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan as “a dramatic, radical intrusion of a government bureaucracy into the internal life of the Church.”

Biden’s views on abortion are also in strong contention with Church teachings. A longtime supporter of abortion rights, Biden has consistently received 100% ratings from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

In 2011, Biden sat down with Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Catholic Church, for a private meeting. In a statement released after the meeting, the Vatican made it clear that the pope had spoken plainly with Biden on his stance on abortion.

“His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in co-operation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development,” said the statement, though not much more was said.

His stance on gay marriage is also at odds with the Church, which is pushing for an amendment to protect heterosexual marriage. The issue of gay marriage has pushed to the forefront of Catholic issues of late, and the 2012 election will be no exception.

Average Catholics

Catholics who don’t find themselves in a leadership role tend to see things differently. So just because Catholic leadership may lean one way, parishioners may find themselves leaning another.

Catholics tend to vote Democratically – though typically by small margins. This is also heavily weighted by the large Hispanic population within the Church. For instance, according to Gallup, Catholics are currently split 46 percent to 46 percent on Obama vs. Romney. However, when you isolate non-Hispanic Catholics, 55 percent prefer Romney and only 38 percent prefer Obama. Looking at Hispanic Catholics, however, you see a different story: 70 percent prefer Obama while only 20 percent prefer Romney.

But, looking away from race, Catholic churchgoers still view things differently than their leaders. According to Gallup, 82 percent of Catholics believe that birth control is morally acceptable, and 54 percent believe gay marriage should be legal. Catholics also tend to line up with the rest of the population on abortion and stem cell research. From these numbers, it appears that the majority of Catholics fall on Biden’s side when it comes to politics and church teachings.

That doesn’t mean that the Obama/Biden ticket is a shoe in for the Catholic vote, but it does mean that the Church is in for an interesting ride when it comes to the 2012 election.


Posted by on August 14, 2012. Filed under Elections. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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