Published April 25, 2012
The Catholic Difference
One does wonder, sometimes, just what goes on at Catholic News Service [CNS], an agency that wouldn’t exist were it not for the U.S. bishops and the bishops’ conference. This past April 16, CNS distributed a lengthy interview with Rep. Rose DeLauro (D-Conn.), giving her a platform to blast the 2013 federal budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and to badger Cardinal Timothy Dolan to pay as much attention to “the poor, the hungry, the middle class, the people who are going to be eviscerated by the Ryan budget” as Dolan and the bishops he leads are paying to the defense of religious freedom.
The Congresswoman’s appeal was specifically Catholic — “my Church, the Catholic Church, needs to speak out loud on this issue” — which involved an irony left wholly unexamined by CNS. For Rose DeLauro’s voting record is in some tension, to put it gently, with Catholic understandings of justice.
The Catholic Church teaches the inalienable right to life of the unborn and insists that that obvious moral truth be acknowledged in law; Rep. DeLauro is a consistent pro-abortion vote in the House. The Catholic Church worked with the District of Columbia education authorities to provide “opportunity scholarships” to Catholic inner city schools for poor children; Rep. DeLauro supported the Obama administration’s cruel refusal to fund that program. The bishops have declared that religious freedom is under serious assault in the United States today; the gentlewoman from Connecticut has been notably AWOL in defending the first of American liberties.
How, then does Congresswoman DeLauro imagine herself as someone who speaks for “my Church, the Catholic Church?” My hunch is that she imagines herself a spokesperson for authentic Catholicism because she, like many other Catholics on the port side of both American politics and the Church, have long thought that they alone hold the high ground at the intersection of Catholic social teaching and public policy.
Memo to Congresswoman DeLauro and friends: Those days are over.
They’re over because four decades of intellectual and political work, coupled with extensive care for women in crisis pregnancies, have made the pro-life cause the cultural marker of serious Catholicism in America.
They’re over because much of the Catholic left has obstinately refused to promote religious freedom in full and the inalienable right to life as priority social justice issues.
And they’re over because contemporary history has vindicated Catholicism’s anti-statist social justice principle, subsidiarity.
The impending fiscal meltdown of European welfare states vindicates subsidiarity by making clear that providing necessary aid to those in genuine need means, among other measures, developing the associational and charitable instincts of civil society. The alternative is state bankruptcy and social chaos.
Then there is Obamacare, which flatly contradicts subsidiarity and its principled rejection of vast concentrations of state power — the dangers of which are amply demonstrated by the coercive HHS “contraceptive mandate.” The universal health care the Church rightly seeks must be accomplished by means other than handing over one-sixth of the economy (and critical medical decisions) to unregulated regulators.
These home truths are bad news for Rose DeLauro and those of her persuasion. Now, to make matters worse, here is Paul Ryan, a congressman of uncommon intelligence who can ably argue the public policy implications of Catholic social doctrine and who understands that what the Church asks of a just society is the empowerment of the poor: breaking the cycle of welfare dependency and unleashing the creativity the Church believes God builds into every human soul.
Paul Ryan is the Catholic left’s worst nightmare and his demonization from that quarter has just begun. Ryan is a big boy, though, and he’ll fight his corner well. That argument might even lead to some consensus about empowerment-based anti-poverty strategies and fiscally responsible social welfare policies among serious Catholics of both political parties.
Rather than being a megaphone for dissenting Catholics posing as authentic representatives of the Church and hyperventilating about people being “eviscerated” by a budget, might CNS help provide a level playing field for the debate?
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.