The congressman, the bishop and moral economics
I forget who said ‘not everything is political’, but it must have been a while ago because it seems now, everything is. But certainly, every issue is a moral issue, and somebody’s morals are going to prevail. When it comes to making law and setting social policy, it’s good to hear top political and religious leaders talking about what makes a just and virtuous society.
Like a high-ranking congressman and bishop have been doing. Namely…
The public presentation of an ongoing dialogue between Paul Ryan, a Catholic from Wisconsin, who is the House Budget committee chairman, and Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the Catholic bishop’s conference, about Catholic social teaching and its application to the current budget debate.
Ryan’s letter to Dolan was lengthy, and said this in part:
The House Budget…better targets assistance to those in need, repairs the social safety net, and fulfills the mission of health and retirement security for all Americans. The budget reforms welfare for those who need it — the poor, sick, and vulnerable; it ends welfare for those who don’t — entrenched corporations, the wealthiest Americans. It’s a plan of action aimed at strengthening economic security for seniors, workers, families, and the poor.
…although the Budget is Congress’ comprehensive spending and revenue plan, my colleagues and I, in developing this Budget, never forgot that the Budget is not just about numbers but about the character and common good of the American people. This Budget is rooted in the dignity of the human person. It honors responsibility to family and self, work, self-restraint, community, and self-government both individually and collectively.
Dolan wrote back a detailed letter, which says in part:
The principles of subsidiarity and solidarity are interrelated to one another. The late Pope reminded us that, “ . . . the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. (Centesimus Annus, 48).”
And they have stayed in conversation by phone, NRO reports.
This is a healthy, serious breakthrough of an exchange about moral responsibilities in legislating. Neither party is the keeper of Catholic social thought. And whatever one believes theologically, it offers important and challenging guidance that should be grappled with.
They are, and it’s illuminating for everyone.
“Catholic Americans are blessed to have the social teaching of the Church as moral guidance as we consider legislative proposals such as the Fiscal Year 2012 Budget,” the congressman wrote. He said there was a moral obligation “implicit” in Catholic social teaching to address “difficult basic problems before they explode into social crisis.”
Ryan cited a passage from Pope John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical “Centisimus Annus” which criticized the “social assistance state” for leading to “an inordinate increase of public agencies” dominated by bureaucratic thinking and accompanied by an “enormous increase in spending” and “a loss of human energies.”
Ryan also cited the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” claiming that the House budget was informed by the principle of subsidiarity…
The archbishop said that the Catholic faith, anchored in the Bible, Church tradition and the natural law, can help guide “solid American constitutional wisdom.” He commended the letter’s attention to the dignity of the human person, the poor and the vulnerable, and the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity…
Archbishop Dolan wrote that he hoped the exchange of letters will be the beginning of an ongoing dialogue in service of the country and “the religious convictions that have always inspired sound citizenship and generous public service.”
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