US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Paul Ryan pick for VP draws a line in the sand for Catholic voters

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Just when you thought the presidential election couldn’t get any more polarizing for Catholic voters, along comes Paul Ryan.

For months, Ryan and his controversial budget proposal have been a hot topic of discussion among Catholics. Despite Ryan’s claim that his budget priorities are influenced by his own Catholic faith and the church’s social teaching, the U.S. bishops called his budget proposal a moral failure. Sister Simone Campbell of the social justice lobby group Network led the “Nuns on the Bus” tour earlier this summer to call attention to the failings of Ryan’s plan and the need for policies that protect the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. Ryan certainly has his share of supporters, even among Catholics, but many consider him public enemy number one.

It seems only fitting then that he’d wind up on the presidential ballot as Mitt Romney’s running mate opposite the other prime target for Catholic voters, President Barack Obama. Some Catholic voters have expressed strong opposition to Obama’s policies since 2008, and the heat was turned way up this year. Catholic bishops fought against the regulations of the Affordable Care Act, including filing a series of lawsuits against the federal government, and individual bishops have both accused Obama of “strangling” the church and being in the same class of leaders as Hitler and Stalin.

Catholic voters who oppose President Obama because they believe he is an enemy of the church who is taking away their religious freedom are unlikely to vote for the president regardless of who is on the other side of the ballot. Likewise, those who believe Ryan is distorting church teaching to suit his own purpose while serving only the needs of the wealthy were probably not likely to cast a vote for the Republican nominee under any circumstances. So in the grand scheme of things, Romney’s choice of Ryan is unlikely to shift the opinions of voters who long ago made up their minds about the election.

But it will fire up opponents of both parties and give them a lot more to talk about on the campaign trail in the hope of swaying undecided voters. Network has already gone on record in a press release by saying the selection of Ryan as Romney’s vice presidential nominee “presents U.S. voters with the starkest election decision in years about the moral vision and future of our nation.” Says Campbell, “Both our Constitution and our faith teach us that ‘We the People’ are called to care for one another, to have responsibility for each other. This year’s election will present us with a critical choice. Do we want to favor the rich on the backs of people in need? Is that who we want to be?”

If there is any silver lining, it is that the bishops and other voices in the church now have clear targets on both sides of the fence to criticize. Though it won’t make things any less political in the church, it might make the debate seem less partisan and more about issues that are critical to our faith. The rest will be up to the voters to decide.