VP Role for Paul Ryan Has His Former Parish Priest Worried

The entrance to St. Mary Elementary School in Janesville, Wisconsin has two identical archways with contrasting inscriptions. One entrance says, "For God." The other says, "For Country." That is where Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, first merged his studies of government and religion as a young student.

And the priest who presides over the archways and the towering steeple of the Nativity of Mary says that Ryan's interpretation of Catholic teaching in national budgetary matters and his prospective vice presidential role have him "worried." Father Stephen Umhoefer told the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) that he supports a role for religion in the public square, but that Ryan's austerity budget and proposed steep cuts in social programs are inconsistent with the Catholic teachings that Ryan cites to justify the policies. "If he is following his conscience, he is doing the morally correct thing. But he shouldn't wrap himself in Catholic teaching because he is not using that [teaching] in what I would say is a balanced way," said Umhoefer.

Umhoefer, 72, has led the church since 2002 and was the Ryan family pastor until the family left for another Janesville parish a few years ago. Ryan's current parish is led by a priest who teaches on the diocese faculty under the deeply conservative Madison Bishop Robert Morlino, who characterizes Ryan's judgment as "in accord with all the teachings of the Church."

Ryan's Defense of Austerity Budget Kicks Up Controversy

Ryan's leadership as chair of the House Budget Committee and author of the "Path to Prosperity" Republican budget blueprint and the FY 2013 House Budget Resolution has become a lightning rod for criticism by other Catholic bishops, ecumenical groups, and lay leaders.

Nativity of Mary Parish, Janesville, WisconsinIn introducing Ryan to the nation as his running mate Saturday, Romney said that Ryan's beliefs "remain firmly rooted in Janesville, Wisconsin," and pointed to his life as a "faithful Catholic." If elected, Ryan would become the first Catholic Republican vice president in history. The Ryan budget, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 but died in the Senate, would slash taxes on the rich and on corporations, while implementing massive cuts in social safety net programs. It would repeal Obamacare, cut Medicaid, transform Medicare into a voucher system, cut student loans, and end the Earned Income Tax Credit program for the poor, while reversing Wall Street financial reforms.

Standing alone, the harsh austerity budget was controversial enough. But in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network in April 2012, Ryan defended his budget as in conformity with Catholic social doctrine. "[T]he preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don't keep people poor, don't make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck in their station in life. Help people get out of poverty onto [a] life of independence," Ryan said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops took sharp exception, calling on Congress to resist "for moral and human reasons" cuts to food and nutrition programs to the poor. The Conference called instead for "shared sacrifice ... including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly." Faculty at Georgetown University put it more bluntly in an open letter to Ryan: "Your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Father Umhoefer followed the controversy from Janesville. He said in an extended interview that he had a "very friendly pastor-parishioner relationship" with Ryan, but that the two "never sat down and talked politics." He noted that he has not read in full the dense, 60-plus page Republican budget, but that he has reviewed the budget through a range of Catholic and ecumenical materials and media reports, and he shared the concerns expressed by the bishops.

"The Primary Question Is, How Does This Affect the Poor?"

For Umhoefer, the test of the budget is a simple one: "The first question is how does this affect the poor. And everything else follows from that. That doesn't mean it's a Republican or Democrat [question] -- you could argue that. But the primary question is how does this affect the poor?"

Umhoefer said that Ryan's lack of attention to the poor and the emphasis on individualism espoused by role models such as Ayn Rand concerned him. "Paul would say that the only way to save the country from a coming [fiscal] disaster is 'follow my plan.'" But according to Umhoefer, the problem is "you can't tell somebody that in ten years your economic situation is going to be just wonderful because meanwhile your kids may starve to death."

Umhoefer said that in Janesville, which lost some 5,000 jobs related to the auto industry after a GM plant closed in 2009, residents continue to seek emergency food and housing support and social service organizations have been running out of funds. A house across the street from the church sits with a red "condemned" sticker prominently on the door, and another house on the block has a sign that declares, "Price Reduced."

"The welfare check runs out and people are suffering now in ways that they haven't before," he said, noting that the church has hired two former auto workers with wages and benefits far below their former level.

St. Mary School, Janesville, WisconsinUmhoefer said that wealthy church members have offered support for shared sacrifice and revenue raising proposals such as the Warren Buffet rule that asks millionaires to avoid loopholes and pay a tax rate of 30 percent. "I can't always invite my neighbor over to dinner, but I ... need to pay a certain amount of taxes. And I need to vote to make sure taxes are used to help make sure that my neighbor isn't starving," he said.

Umhoefer also laments what he calls an excess of individualism in America that is sometimes abetted by politicians. He prepared for CMD a section of the church catechism, which states that the church "has refused to accept, in the practice of 'capitalism,' individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor." Umhoefer said that he doesn't mean to accuse Ryan of choosing individualism as a creed over community, but that Ryan's promotion of Ayn Rand to his staff and others is "an alternative universe of which he is a member.... What I call an excessive attitude of individualism is doing a great deal of harm to us as a society because we are forgetting society values," said Umhoefer.

Priest to Ryan: "You Can't Just Pack Your Own Heat"

Umhoefer said that Ryan has also selectively presented to his audiences a Catholic concept of empowerment known as "subsidiarity." Ryan explained subsidiarity to the Christian Broadcasting Network as "not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities."

Umhoefer said that he agrees with the "Nuns on the Bus," a group of liberal nuns who recently undertook a bus tour and visited Ryan's Janesville office to underscore the absurdity of Ryan's approach. "Just on food stamps alone, Congressman Ryan is wrong that the church can take care of this issue. The cuts that have been proposed and passed by the [U.S.] House are going to require every church, every synagogue, every mosque, every house of worship in the United States, each year for ten years, to each raise $50,000. It's impossible," said Sister Simone Campbell during the Janesville stop. CMD covered the Nuns on the Bus Tour and sought the interview with Umhoefer after the nuns presented an alternative "moral budget" in Janesville.

Reading from the catechism, Umhoefer explained that government "should support [local communities] in case of need and help to coordinate its activities with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good." He said that when subsidiarity lacks resources and coordination, government can fail when it is most needed. But sometimes we need to be rescued: "You can't just pack your own heat and protect your own building," he cautioned.

"What I wish for Paul -- he is so smart and so articulate and has made this whole budget, which he can defend on his own view ... of how the economy and politics work. I wish he wouldn't bring in the Catholic church. He doesn't need to if his economic and political argument are strong, and I'm sure he believes that they are."


If cutting subsistence support will goad the poor out of poverty, why not use the same tactic on the rich? Confiscate their wealth and they'll have to work to replace it, spurring economic activity. After all, the government redistributes wealth upwards all the time in oil subsidies, low taxes on dividends and capital gains. It can just as easily revamp the tax code so the idle rich will have to get off their butts. They're the really lazy ones. Go visit any marina, any executive airport, any world class golf course. That ain't workin'.

Having accused President Obama of being foreign, too European, Romney/Ryan are certainly ready to embrace European austerity measures, which we all know are NOT working too well. It boggles ones mind that they are still sticking to cutting taxes for the wealthiest,saddling the middle class with more taxes (how does that sit with Grover Norquist?), and the poor even more poor by reducing social services, hoping against all hope that those job creators will actually create some jobs for which they've had more than 12 years to prove themselves as saviors of the middle class - NOT! Ryan - a good Catholic? Nonsense - has he ever asked himself "what would Jesus do?" for the poor? Ayn Rand, an atheist (although I have nothing against atheism) as his driving force and inspiration to go into politics? How does he reconcile this other than suddenly distancing himself from her?

Hi Scott. Finally found a Catholic website where the people believe in the Bible. You know you are right.

The National Catholic Register interviewed Bishop Morlino who defends Ryan as a serious Catholic who knows and applies Catholic social teaching, in an article published online today. He doesn't endorse him of course, but extremely rightly stands up for him as he's being unfairly attacked. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/paul-ryans-bishop-defends-him-amid-attacks-on-his-application-of-church-tea/ This priest who spoke to liberal PRWatch attacking Ryan's ideas, says he never had a political conversation with his parishioner--but Ryan and Bishop Morlino have known each other well and have talked quite a bit about those matters. Ryan also has had some good dialogue with Cardinal Dolan, for instance recently Ryan published a substantive and interesting exchange of correspondence between them on the House budget website http://budget.house.gov/fy2012budget/dolandialogue.htm . Does Fr Umhoefer's opinion have any particular relevance at all? All the younger priests in our diocese, many older priests, and all the seminarians (we have 32 terrific seminarians) understand perfectly that right to life issues are weightier than budget issues, yet that completely is not even touched on in this article--why not? A Catholic cannot vote in good conscience for a candidate that supports abortion rights, but people could believe either way on the Ryan budget, and anyway the Romney campaign has stated they will have their own new budget proposal. I am 34 and I have been aware since childhood that our country has a huge and unsustainable debt and that has obviously gotten a lot worse, a solution to that is necessary and inherently politically unattractive. I suspect they are going to take care that the most helpless needy are not hurt. I was at the "bus nuns" political stunt in Janesville (Jonathan Rosenblum would remember me) where a friend and I wanted to bring a religious freedom message--that the sisters clearly saw as antithetical to their own message. I saw in person that a lot of the support for the "nuns on the bus" was frankly decidedly anti-Catholic, and we saw it again back in Madison, where our non political capitol rosary rallies with tons of families and kids and consisting simply of 15 decades of the rosary, were protested by nasty atheist anti-Catholic protesters with signs and shouting about their support for the "nuns on the bus". I have to think this priest is out of touch and does not realize what he is saying besides he is concerned for the poor, which is fine. I am a poor person who receives an extremely generous amount of government aid myself, and my reaction when Paul Ryan was announced was delight, because he is completely pro life and I think we have really NEVER had at that top level of government as sincere a Catholic as he seems to be. But just as Wisconsinites I think we can be proud of him, the ability, the kind of character and ordinary lovely family he has, let us all acknowledge he is a credit to our state, whether we agree with him about everything or not.

"I suspect they are going to take care that the most helpless needy are not hurt." "I am a poor person who receives an extremely generous amount of government aid myself, and my reaction when Paul Ryan was announced was delight, because he is completely pro life" How very sad that people choose their leaders, hense the economic policies, based upon an issue totally irrelavent to the health and well being of the nation as a whole. The right to choose a legal, safe abortion truly blinds rational discourse and logic. Nobody wants abortions, but they're going to happen, so it must be safe and legal in a rational world. If R & R wins and congress begins dismantling programs/benefits that Elizabeth is currently receiving ' I suspect' she may reconsider her opinion of the nuns fighting for similar programs she benefits from? Romney and Ryan have fought throughout their political lives for economic policies that benefit their own self-interest; what makes low and modest income people like Elizabeth choose a Ryan? You can't eat principles - and democracy won't survive without the middle class. With wedge issue voters like Elizabeth - democracy is bought by special interest groups that put on horrid ads that pander to emotion - just for a vote.

It's sad you expect people to abandon essential moral and religious principles in response to some perceived financial advantage! As I pointed out in another comment, this is the "What's the Matter with Kansas" meme: "progressives" expressing frustration and bafflement at voters with moral principles more important than money. According to this meme it's "rational" for voters to abandon Christian morality in response to a financial incentive such as a government handout. Like Judas betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. It is a sin to vote for a pro abortion rights or pro same sex "marriage" candidate. There is not in fact any good reason why directly killing innocent people (babies, the elderly, or etc) should be legal. We are obliged to oppose it. People have a natural right to life. The idea that supplying me with handouts such as food stamps has anything to do with the middle class is preposterous.

Maybe Ryan/Romney will cut off you GENEROUS government aid and let the free market succeed or fail apply to you. We can't legislate morality issues and should as Christians try to change the world as Jesus taught us one heart and mind at a time and keep the Church out of politics where we are manipulated into voting for people who are systematically extracting wealth from the middle class and poor while preaching to us at the same time. Wake up.

Elizabeth D, I think your either dreaming or you got some BAD weed..... I feel the republican Christians have lost their way on the road to the white house. Take form the poor and give to the rich....

Tell all those dead Iraqis and Afgans about Mr. Ryan's wonderful Pro-Life agenda. I guess post birth abortion doesn't count

In law there is something called precedent. It applies largely to theology as well, although it isn't formalized. Christianity is a specific religion, of which Catholicism is the originator. All Christianity came out of Catholicism. By the same token, before Jesus came, God's people were, doctrinally, the Jews. So let's start with what the Old Testament said, and then look at what Jesus said, and then finally look at what the Church has historically said and or done: In the Old Testament, many names are attributed to God that relate to his relationship to the poor: Defender of the fatherless and widows (Deut. 10:18; Psalm 10:16-18; 40:17, 68:5; Jeremiah 22:16) Protector of the poor (Psalm 12:5) Rescuer of the poor (I Sam 2:8, Psalm 35:10, 72:4, 12-14, Isaiah 19:20, Jeremiah 20:13) Provider of the poor (Psalm 68:10, 146:7, Isaiah 41:17) Savior of the poor (Psalm 34:6, 109:31) Refuge of the poor (Psalm 14:6, Isaiah 25:4) Further the OT is very clear on where God's blessings and curses lie in regard to the poor. For those who bless the poor, God promises to bless them (Ps 41:1-3; 112; Prov. 14:21; 19:17, 22:9, 14:31, 28:27; Isaiah 58:6-10). But, He promises to judge those who oppress the poor (Deut 27:19, Prov. 17:5, 21:13, 22:16, 28:27; Isaiah 10:1-4; Eze 18:12-13, 16:49). Pretty clear. What about Christ though, what did he say and do? Well: Luke 6:20-21 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Luke 4:16-19 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.' Matthew 25:34-36 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Mark 10:21-22 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Luke 14:12-14 He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." Luke 16:19-25 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. And as for the rich? Matthew 19:24A nd again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God Luke 12:16-21 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." So no, there is no scriptural way in the old or new testaments to defend Paul Ryan's views. What about historic Catholic dogma? Historically throughout the world the Catholic Church has worked to eliminate poverty. It continues that work to this day. In the US, well, let's see, On health care for all: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has long advocated health care for all. In their pastoral letter, Health and Health Care, the bishops called for a “comprehensive health care system that will ensure a basic level of health care for all Americans.” Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Peace on Earth , listed health care among those basic rights which flow from the sanctity and dignity of human life. In the same tradition, Pope John Paul II addressed the need for health care in On Human Work, where he focused on the availability and affordability of health care for workers. In Health and Health Care, the bishops explain that, for the Catholic community, health and the healing ministry take on particular significance because of the Church’s involvement as provider of health care services through its various ministries and as a major purchaser of health care insurance for its employees. In the debate over health care insurance, the bishops will continue to use as their guide the “criteria for reform” from their Framework for Comprehensive Health Care Reform. Among the criteria for health care reform they will apply to policy proposals are: · Respect for Life — Whether it preserves and enhances human life from conception to natural death. · Priority Concern for the Poor – Whether it gives special priority to health care needs of the poor, ensuring that their health care is quality health care. · Universal Access to Comprehensive Benefits — Whether it provides universal access to comprehensive benefits sufficient to maintain and promote good health. · Pursuing the Common Good and Preserving Pluralism — Whether it allows and encourages the involvement of all sectors, including the religious and voluntary sectors, in all aspects of health care, ensuring respect for the ethical and religious values of consumers and providers. on caring for the poor -- The US Conference of Catholic Bishops urges strong FEDERAL action -- ( http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/safety-net-income-support/temporary-assistance-to-needy-families.cfm ). Further they have specifically written in support of raising the minimum wage to help those at the very bottom of the economic scale. ( http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/raise-federal-minimum-wage-catholic-bishops-urge-congress-53349332.html ) The simple fact is that Paul Ryan is completely out of step with historic Catholic and Christian teachings, with the words of Jesus Christ, and even with the proclamations of the Old Testament. For him to attempt to defend his false and wrongful positions as Catholic is disgraceful. As for the Archbishop willfully misusing Catholic teachings, he should leave the church. Paul Ryan should believe whatever he wants, he is a lay member, but he should not present it as being in accord with a Church that has done more to alleviate world hunger and world poverty than any other organization. The Church and Ayn Rand have NOTHING to do with each other, as Ms. Rand was happy to assert over and over and over when she was alive. If he is serious about his faith, Mr. Ryan might seriously want to consider that as well - but that is between him and God. Regards