Faculty question Rep. Paul Ryan’s use of Catholic social teaching

April 26, 2012

Today, Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is slated to arrive on campus to speak at the 2012 Whittington Lecture, Georgetown Public Policy Institute’s annual event designed to promote education and awareness about policy issues. Since the announcement of his speech, Ryan has sparked controversy among the University’s Jesuit community over his use of Catholic social teaching in support of his budget policies. In anticipation of his presence on campus, Fr. Thomas Reese wrote a letter to Ryan on behalf of Georgetown’s Jesuit scholars, challenging his use of Catholic social teaching to defend his budget and its destructive impact on the poor.

The letter, which as of Wednesday was signed by over 90 Georgetown faculty members across numerous disciplines, welcomes Ryan and his visit as an opportunity for discourse regarding the role of Catholic social teaching in public policy. “Even though Paul Ryan [and his budget have] been criticized by US bishops,” said Reese, “we’re not saying he can’t be here, but what we are saying is he cannot use Catholic social teaching as a cover, or as an excuse, for a budget that cuts programs for the poor. We’re telling students, buyer beware…think critically as you’re listening to all he has to say.”

The letter goes after what they view as the un-Christian aspects of Ryan’s policies. “Your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” it reads. Fr. Reese described Ryan’s embrace of Rand as “really remarkable.” “I mean, this woman was very anti-religion and anti-compassion or serving the poor,” he said. “Her philosophy is based on selfishness, and almost pure libertarianism.”

Fr. Reese also criticizes Ryan’s interpretation of Catholic social teaching. “This is where he uses the term ‘subsidiarity,’ Catholic social teaching very much wants things done at the lowest level possible—but the word possible is important there,” he said. “And when something can’t be dealt with at the lowest level possible, then institutions at a higher level have a responsibility to step in and do something.”

Senior Research Fellow Fr. Raymond Kemp, who has a long history of activism on campus, including support for the Georgetown Solidarity hunger strikes in 2005, echoed that Rep. Ryan is welcome on campus, but his ideas should be questioned.

“I just want to make it clear—don’t come to a Catholic institution having used the Catholic social teaching on your budget without expecting a few Catholic [professors] and other professors who teach Catholic teaching to say, ‘Excuse me representative, but… you’re not going to get an A in this class,’” he said.

GPPI Director Lauren Mullins said that kind of dialogue was precisely the reasoning behind selecting Rep. Ryan as the Whittington Lecturer.“There’s [controversy] right now over competing approaches to how to deal with the growing gap between spending and tax revenue that’s coming up in the next couple of decades,” she said. “While some people disagree with his position, there’s no denying that Ryan is at the center of the efforts to resolve these issues. He’s one of the leading voices on the hill on the future of the budget, so we thought that he would be a great speaker to have.”

Fr. Kemp, echoing his fellow signatories to the letter, says GPPI is right to welcome him to campus. “I think that the GPPI is interested in promoting discussion, dialogue, and debate, I think that the invitation is very well placed…to have him come here and open up his thought processes to the public policy crowd.”

But while they do not challenge Ryan being on campus, the scholars who signed the letter have different hopes for the lecture, urging students to challenge Ryan. “Part of what we as Jesuits try to instill at Georgetown is the whole idea of service,” Reese said. “We’re supposed to be people for others and because of this great opportunity we have been given, we have a corresponding responsibility to help people who haven’t had all the advantages that we’ve had. You just don’t hear that in the Ryan budget.”

Reese’s motivation behind sending the letter was to challenge Ryan and what he views as Catholic teaching to support his budget. Lucky for Ryan, the scholars included a copy of the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church to “help deepen [his] understanding of Catholic social teaching.”

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Ken GoodSmith

As a member of the class of 1987, it’s nice to see that a good portion of the faculty is as hostile to opposing views (and, frankly, as rude) as the students were in my time.

Karen Murphy Hogan

I wonder if the faculty was as united in opposition to the aging coed who complained to Congress that Georgetown was not helpful in paying for her much needed contracption.

How does the faculty feel about the “social teachings” of Kathleen Sibelius and Nancy Pelosi?

jack stokes

i wonder if some of your readers are familar with \what you have done for the least of these you have done for me\

chris robling

27 April 2012

Dear former professors and others
who signed the “Georgetown Letter”
to U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan,

Your note brings sadness.

I expect more from each and from all of you. I think you were respectful, not condescending, to responsible points of view when I studied under you or your predecessors in the 1970s, and especially views sincerely espoused, even if they were at odds with your own. It is certainly what we were taught.

Two recollections: Dr. Kissinger’s hiring and Farah Pahlavi’s speech at Gaston Hall. Neither Fr. Henle nor Fr. Healy would abide – institutionally – the cursory, opportunistic, conclusory and, frankly, basely political denunciations these events provoked. However, you strike the notes today that our presidents taught us then were countenanced neither by Christian hospitality nor by Jesuit praxis.

How like the 17th century local wise men in Tibet, China, the Philippines, or for that matter Wisconsin you sound, reacting to a Desideri, Ricci, Xavier or Marquette, upon the campus arrival of one who sees things differently than you. I wonder if you think this signifies confidence in your position – or alarm.

Your letter’s thin welcome leaps to a conclusory assertion, with neither evidence nor references, that Rep. Ryan ‘misuses’ Catholic teaching by occasional application of its terms to describe his plan for our unsustainable federal spending and $15 trillion national debt.

But it does so in the terms of a press release, or 100 press releases, from interested parties and true believers, who say the same thing. Are your descriptive powers those of a campaign press secretary? Are you ashamed to crib their copy? Frankly, it is embarrassing that your characterization is indistinguishable from those repeated constantly by a national political party that appears primarily focused on… attacking Rep. Ryan’s plan.

I know several of you, and I know the grades we would have earned – or forsaken – for originality or its absence. I leave to your own honest personal assessment how you would grade yourselves – or your students – for such work.

In substance, about subsidiarity, you appeal to Rome. I instead appeal to Athens, in substance, about unsustainability.

In Athens these days electricians are fighting merchants because they have not been paid in six months, but if they fail to report to work they will lose their claim to their jobs and the pensions they thought were secure.

In Athens’ Constitution Square, on Wednesday, April 2, a pharmacist, whose support checks were lost in the unwinding of Greece’s insolvency, shot himself to death rather than leave his family in debt, according to the Chicago Tribune’s John Kass. Protestors gathered throughout the day. Eventually, in front of the parliament building, the demonstrations turned violent. Greeks hammered the marble steps and started throwing chunks at Greeks. Troops arrived, tear gas was sprayed, as at Healy Lawn in the 1970s, and, in Kass’ words, “The situation appeared to calm down, at least for a few hours overnight, until the nation awakens and sees that its economic agony remains unresolved.”

If you think we are not hurtling to that moment, then please offer to exchange views with Congressman Ryan. I suggest you check your arithmetic first.

If you think that moment awaits us, then please state, unlike the U.S. Senate, which has not adopted a budget resolution for 1100 days, or the president, whose budget received zero votes in the House of Representatives several weeks ago, your better plan to avoid it.

Or, if instead you choose to quibble about Mr. Ryan’s description of his plan, then you might consult Rhonheimer, for instance, who as you know recites and refreshes Thomas’ best lessons – and emphasizes that an “integral common good” is based on a “practical common good.”

And then you might describe to all of us, in detail, what in Athens looks to you like a “practical common good.”

Citizenship’s requisite rationality demands that we listen to those with whom we disagree. Of course, it is easier to disqualify than to learn an opponent’s position better than they know it themselves, as Lord Acton admonished. Your preemptive snit over interpretive nuances of subsidiarity, coupled with your insulting stunt of enclosing Rerem Novarum, teach your students to disqualify, rather than to listen.

Thus, the sadness your letter brought, on an otherwise glorious John Carroll Weekend here in beautiful Chicago, for as we were taught to listen above the din, the din now comes from within.

I hope – pray actually – to see better from each and all of you, as well as from Georgetown University, institutionally, itself.

Utraque unum,

Chris Robling

A.B., philosophy and economics

Ronald Wiles

I wish to concur with the comments of Chris Robling on April 27, and observe with sadness and disgust the decision of GU to invite Ms. Kathleen Sebelius as commencement speaker this year.

This lady personifies numerous pro-choice politicians posing as \Catholics\: Joe Biden, Sens. Durbin, Leahy, and others.
Is that what we want to promote for the next generation?

Do I or any other aging graduate wish to recommend GU to our children or grandchildren, now or in the future? It is not the Catholic university I once knew.

Ron Wiles – BSFS-60