US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Don't punish the poor for someone else's political games

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

You may have heard that last weekend Vice Presidential nominee and Congressman Paul Ryan decided to take time out of his busy schedule to take his family to the Mahoning County St. Vincent De Paul Society's soup kitchen in the key swing state of Ohio. The candidate and his family washing dishes in the kitchen was a great photo-op, but as the media quickly figured out, that's really all it was.

News quickly broke that the photo was staged, and early reports said the dishes Ryan washed weren't even dirty. St. Vincent de Paul Society president Brian J. Antal quickly spoke out, saying he hadn't invited Ryan and that had he been consulted he would have turned down the request of Ryan's campaign to shoot the photo. Antal said he'd do the same if a Democrat showed up, since he didn't want the charity to be caught in the middle of a political battle.

Antal also cleared up some details with the Washington Post: The dishes were dirty after all, but a Ryan staffer had come by earlier to ask a soup kitchen volunteer to put aside a few dirty dishes for the photo shoot. By the time Ryan himself arrived, the Post reports: "the food had already been served, the patrons had left, and the hall had been cleaned." The Ryan family's visit lasted 10-15 minutes, just enough time for photographers to get some good shots of them "serving the poor." (None of whom were present at the time, of course, but that's a minor detail.)

In politics, this kind of behavior is to be expected. We're in the last month of a heated presidential race and both sides are willing to do whatever they can to get ahead. Ryan is just doing what any candidate would do, so I see no reason to get outraged over his staged photo.

But others have gotten upset about it, namely the donors that support the small Catholic charity that served as a set for Ryan's campaign trick. Just as Antal feared, the St. Vincent de Paul Society has been caught in the middle of the political battle. Though he can't disclose actual figures, Antal says his charity is losing big money over the incident. "It appears to be a substantial amount," he told the Huffington Post. "You can rest assured there has been a substantial backlash."

Now that is a reason to get upset. Antal also points out that he draws no salary for his work with St. Vincent de Paul, nor do any of the other volunteers. The loss in donations means the only people who will suffer are those who rely on the soup kitchen for a warm meal.

You may not agree with Ryan's politics, or with the soup kitchen volunteers who let him come in and have his photo taken. But the way to get back at them isn't to make sure that more people will have to go hungry.