Paul Ryan is what we'd call a "cafeteria Catholic." Instead of following church teachings, he simply picks and chooses what he wishes to believe. Typically, an American cafeteria Catholic adheres to everything but the birth control/abortion/homosexuality teachings, but Ryan's an unusual case: He only wants to cut loose the poor and the needy. I wonder if the conservative Bishop Robert C. Morlino of the Madison diocese is going to publicly call him to task, the way conservative bishops do for the other kind of cafeteria Catholics?
Last April, the US Catholic Bishops sent a blistering message to the House Ways and Means Committee saying that any federal budget must be judged by the way it protects the 'least of these.' In Bishop Blaire's words: "The House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria."
The architect of the budget the Bishops deemed immoral was Rep. Paul Ryan, a Catholic, who has now joined Mitt Romney as his running mate on the GOP ticket.
Much has already been said about how Gov. Romney's choice of Rep. Ryan will turn the presidential election into a substantive debate on policy. But the choice will also provide Catholic voters with a choice in the November election that will serve to highlight internal tensions and conflicting priorities.
The Catholic Church is already under immense stress. Just Friday (August 11), the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents most Catholic nuns in America, formally rejected the Vatican takeover of their organization and its accompanying Bishop overseers.
These nuns have been accused of emphasizing work with the poor and not focusing enough on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Some of them participated in the media-friendly Nuns On A Bus tour, during which they traveled to nine states protesting the budget proposal of Rep. Paul Ryan. Sister Simone Campbell was quoted as saying that Ryan's budget "rejects church teaching about solidarity, inequality, the choice for the poor, and the common good. That's wrong."
Their months-long critique of Rep. Ryan's budget is unlikely to lessen in the coming months.
Another show of Catholic concern with Rep. Ryan came when he was invited to speak at the Jesuit affiliated Georgetown University. Before he arrived, Ryan was sent a letter signed by more than 90 faculty, including over a dozen Jesuit priests. In the letter, the vice presidential candidate was again taken to task by Catholics: "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."
So, on the one hand you have a rare show of Catholic unity in condemning what is considered Paul Ryan's major asset to the Romney campaign -- namely his radical fiscal conservatism.
We can always hope that Bishop Morlino will eventually be morally consistent with what he wrote in a recent letter to the Wisconsin legislature:
Irresponsibly claiming to be Catholic, while rejecting the basic Catholic values that are to be embodied in emergency contraception legislation, is yet another source of scandal and confusion for faithful Catholics and all those who claim to be pro-life.
But I wouldn't hold my breath. The Catholic church does have strong teachings on social justice, but the right-wing bishops and cardinals appointed by the last two popes seem to be cafeteria Catholics, too. They have no problem publicly shaming politicians who support birth control, abortion and gay marriage, but are strangely silent on the church teachings on the poor, and on their right to support and dignity.
Considering Bishop Morlino's track record, he's just another fetus fetishist whose silence on other issues mocks the social underpinnings of a real "right to life." And I'm not the first person to bring up his hyperfocus on some moral issues at the expense of others.