UPDATE: 4/24, 4:00pm: Rep. Paul Ryan's spokesman, Kevin Seifert, sent this email in response to an inquiry about the Georgetown Faculty Letter from The Huffingtonpost:
"Chairman Ryan remains grateful for Georgetown's invitation to advance a thoughtful dialogue this week on his efforts to avert a looming debt crisis that would hurt the poor the first and the worst. Ryan looks forward to affirming our shared commitment to a preferential option for the poor, which of course does not mean a preferential option for bigger government."
WASHINGTON—Joining a chorus of Catholic bishops, theologians, priests, and social justice leaders, nearly 90 Georgetown University faculty and administrators have called Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to task for his misuse of Catholic social teaching in defending his budget, which hurts the poor. The group sent a letter to Rep. Ryan in advance of his appearance on the Catholic campus on Thursday morning to give the Whittington Lecture.
In their letter to Ryan, the scholars make clear they are not objecting to his speaking on campus, but rather his recent comments defending his budget on Christian grounds.
“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. “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.” Reese is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.
The letter quotes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which wrote several letters to Congress saying “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” The bishops noted that “the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.” Last week, Rep. Ryan dismissed the bishops’ critique, erroneously claiming the letters didn’t represent “all the bishops,” a point the USCCB media office denied.
“I am afraid that Chairman Ryan’s budget reflects the values of his favorite philosopher Ayn Rand rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Father Reese. “Survival of the fittest may be okay for Social Darwinists but not for followers of the gospel of compassion and love.”
The Georgetown scholars pointed to the devastating impact of cuts in food programs that keep the poor from starvation. From personal experience, they also “know how cuts in Pell Grants will make it difficult for low-income students to pursue their educations at colleges across the nation, including Georgetown.”
The scholars corrected Mr. Ryan on his use of the Catholic concept of “subsidiarity” as “a rationale gutting government programs.” The scholars say that it is true that “It calls for solutions to be enacted as close to the level of local communities as possible. But it also demands that higher levels of government provide help—‘subsidium’—when communities and local governments face problems beyond their means to address such as economic crises, high unemployment, endemic poverty and hunger.”
The scholars also gave the Representative a reading assignment: “The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” which was commissioned by John Paul II and published by the Vatican.
Signing the letter were over a dozen Georgetown Jesuit priests, numerous members of the Theology and other departments including History, Government, Philosophy, School of Foreign Service and School of Nursing & Health Studies.
The letter to Rep. Paul Ryan follows:
Dear Rep. Paul Ryan,
Welcome to Georgetown University. We appreciate your willingness to talk about how Catholic social teaching can help inform effective policy in dealing with the urgent challenges facing our country. As members of an academic community at a Catholic university, we see your visit on April 26 for the Whittington Lecture as an opportunity to discuss Catholic social teaching and its role in public policy.
\However, we would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely noted in several letters to Congress – “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” Catholic bishops recently wrote that “the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.”
In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.
Cuts to anti-hunger programs have devastating consequences. Last year, one in six Americans lived below the official poverty level and over 46 million Americans – almost half of them children – used food stamps for basic nutrition. We also know how cuts in Pell Grants will make it difficult for low-income students to pursue their educations at colleges across the nation, including Georgetown. At a time when charities are strained to the breaking point and local governments have a hard time paying for essential services, the federal government must not walk away from the most vulnerable.
While you often appeal to Catholic teaching on “subsidiarity” as a rationale for gutting government programs, you are profoundly misreading Church teaching. Subsidiarity is not a free pass to dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own devices. This often misused Catholic principle cuts both ways. It calls for solutions to be enacted as close to the level of local communities as possible. But it also demands that higher levels of government provide help -- “subsidium”-- when communities and local governments face problems beyond their means to address such as economic crises, high unemployment, endemic poverty and hunger. According to Pope Benedict XVI: "Subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa.”
Along with this letter, we have included a copy of the Vatican's Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, commissioned by John Paul II, to help deepen your understanding of Catholic social teaching.