Home / Views & Opinion / Walking the Talk? Ryan's divergence from Catholic social teachings and the theological argument for the right to health care and economic equality
Walking the Talk? Ryan's divergence from Catholic social teachings and the theological argument for the right to health care and economic equality

Walking the Talk? Ryan's divergence from Catholic social teachings and the theological argument for the right to health care and economic equality

Ask any Republican on the street if we should have socialized health care and you will get a resounding "no."  The bogeyman of "big government" hovers, and big government is clearly in the "out" group for the GOP. Yet these very same Republicans wax eloquently about how God wants their candidate to be president. Heck. Even the candidates themselves believe that God wants them to be president (Romney and Ryan have been conspicuously silent on this issue, although Glenn Beck picked up the slack by announcing that God wants Romney to be president in late September).  The health care debate has, interestingly enough, been putting quite a lot of theological pressure on Paul Ryan because of his conservative Catholic background.   While the Washington Post says that Ryan is correct when he says Medicare needs to be saved–the now famous plan to "voucherize" Medicare by privatizing it which drew ire from the AARP convention Ryan was booed at a couple of weeks ago–Ryan faces tension with the Catholic Church, who believes as a fundamental tenet in universal health care coverage.  The Washington Post adds:

Catholic teaching agrees with him about intergenerational solidarity—especially with the poor—but Ryan must face the fact that his Church also claims that there is a right to health care. Like food, shelter, education and other basic needs, human dignity requires that the community provide health care to all. And because respecting this right seems to go beyond the abilities of local, private organizations, subsidiarity has led the U.S.Conference of Bishops to support “truly universal and genuinely affordable” health care—something they have done for many decades. It appears that Ryan does not accept this teaching, especially because his plan to reform Medicare would cost seniors so much money that many of them would be unable to afford such insurance at all.

The only moral option left to us, at least if we accept a right to health care, is to ration health care.

Rationing health care is what we have now–you can only get treatment if you have no health insurance by visiting the emergency room and letting other people pick up the tab, and you can't get health insurance for pre-existing conditions.   Somehow, I don't remember Jesus rationing health care when people came up to him and asked to be healed.   It turns out I am not the only one who believes this–the Catholic Church believes this too.

.  According to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, health care for all is a basic moral teaching of the church:

should not depend on where a person works, how much a family earns, or where a person lives. Instead, every person, created in the image and likeness of God, has a right to life and to those things necessary to sustain life, including affordable, quality health care. This teaching is rooted in the biblical call to heal the sick and to serve "the least of these," our concern for human life and dignity, and the principle of the common good. Unfortunately, tens of millions of Americans do not have health insurance. According to the Catholic bishops of the United States, the current health care system is in need of fundamental reform. To learn about Catholic teaching on health care in more detail, read the full statement by the United States Catholic Bishops, A Framework for Comprehensive Health Care Reform, at usccb.org/sdwp/national/comphealth.shtml.

Congress’s effort to enact health care reform legislation has sparked a vigorous debate.  From a Catholic viewpoint the underlying issue is clear: Tens of millions of Americans lack basic health coverage; many more risk losing what they have as costs rise.  And this is a matter of justice.  As Pope John XXIII said almost half a century ago: “Man has the right to live. He has the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care…” (Pacem in Terris, no. 11).  A society that does not ensure basic life-affirming health care for those in need is failing in a basic responsibility.
Since the right to health care is based on the right to live, it is also clear that what attacks life is not health care at all, and not a legitimate goal of health care reform.  The Church insists that reform is too important and legitimate a goal to be hijacked by destructive agendas such as government-mandated abortion coverage.

In fact, Paul Ryan's practice of his faith diverges from Catholic social teachings so much, that he actually said publicly that his budget was in line with Catholic social teachings when it was not. In April of this year Faith in Public Life reported Catholic leaders came out and asked him to stop distorting church teachings to justify his "immoral" budget, which has been lauded by God-fearing Republicans so much it landed Ryan the VP nomination:

     The group of Catholic leaders — including a former high-ranking U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops official, a priest in Rep. Ryan’s district and the leadership team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas — called on Ryan to “reconsider his radical budget proposal and refrain from distorting Church teaching.”

“If Rep. Ryan thinks a budget that takes food and healthcare away from millions of vulnerable people upholds Catholic values, then he also probably believes Jesus was a Tea Partier who lectured the poor to stop being so lazy and work harder,” said John Gehring, Catholic Outreach Coordinator at Faith in Public Life. “This budget turns centuries of Catholic social teaching on its head. These Catholic leaders and many Catholics in the pews are tired of faith being misused to bless an immoral agenda.”

The leaders wrote: “Simply put, this budget is morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good. A budget that turns its back on the hungry, the elderly and the sick while giving more tax breaks to the wealthiest few can’t be justified in Christian terms.”

Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, released an analysis last month that found the Ryan budget would “likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history).” Mr. Greenstein described the budget proposal as making “extraordinary cuts in programs that serve as a lifeline for our nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently sent a letter to Congressional leaders calling on Congress to protect food stamps, affordable housing and other programs that help the poor from harmful budget cuts. Ryan’s plan did not heed the bishops’ request.

Even the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace have stepped forward to question whether the world economic system that consistently serves the rich is morally correct:

According to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace certain behaviors are partly to blame for the current global financial downturn, including "selfishness, collective greed and hoarding of goods on a great scale." The document says that that world economics needs an "ethic of solidarity" among rich and poor nations.
Urging those involved in regluating economic affairs to examine the impact of their decisions on humanity, the Council suggested that those who wanted to improve economic structures "not be afraid to propose new ideas, even if they might destabilize pre-existing balances of power that prevail over the weakest."
"Occupy Wall Street" protests have sparked similar movements around the world with demonstrators angry over government bailouts of big banks, corporate bonuses and economic inequality. The document from the Vatican's Pontifical Council may be welcomed by the demonstrators, who have been accused of having no real, clear objectives.
"The economic and financial crisis which the world is going through calls everyone, individuals and peoples, to examine in depth the principles and the cultural and moral values at the basis of social coexistence," the Vatican document reads.

What we have here is a case of the Pharisees who pound their chests and say they believe in God in this GOP party and its star candidate, Paul Ryan.   And as the Bible tells, Jesus wasn't a real fan of the Pharisees.

About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
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