Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposals have been challenged in recent years by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, prominent Catholic theologians, a “Nuns on the Bus” tour and respected anti-poverty experts. When your guiding ideology seems to be making life harder for the working poor and coddling the super rich with more tax breaks, you better expect some moral scrutiny along the way.
This consistent Catholic pressure on Ryan doesn’t seem to bother Marquette University’s Les Aspin Center, which is hosting a luncheon tomorrow in Washington to honor the congressman with a distinguished public service award. Named in honor of Les Aspin, a Milwaukee native who served in the House of Representatives and as Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, the award honors a person who “serves as a role model for our nation’s future leaders.” Marquette has sold tickets and sponsorships for the luncheon, including a $25,000 “Gold Tier” buy in that gets you “priority seating.”
Marquette University has every right to give Rep. Ryan or anyone else an award. Universities should be settings that stimulate civil debate across the political and ideological spectrum. But you might expect officials at a Catholic university would think carefully about honoring and raising money off someone who perpetuates racial stereotypes about urban poverty, demonizes government and mocks those concerned about growing income inequality.
At a time when Pope Francis challenges “trickle-down” economic theories and warns about “an economy of exclusion and inequality,” Ryan released a budget this week that slashes federal funding for low-income students, food assistance to hungry families and makes deep cuts to health care coverage. This is not a pro-life budget. It’s an ideological gimmick that reflects Ryan’s favorite intellectual hero, the libertarian icon, Ayn Rand. While Ryan has recently backed away from his encomiums to Rand, the congressman once praised Rand for doing “a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism.” He once cited her as “the reason why I got involved in public service.”
Ryan will be handed his public service award just two days after releasing a 2015 budget proposal that fails a basic moral test.
“This budget proposal doubles down on policies that hurt our nation and is even worse than Ryan’s earlier ones,” said Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, in a statement today. “Forcing the working poor to pay the price of addressing federal deficits while expecting nothing from those with the most wealth is wrong.”
Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said in a statement that Ryan’s budget is “an exercise in hypocrisy — claiming to boost opportunity and reduce poverty while flagrantly doing the reverse.” Here are just a few highlights (or lowlights) from the Ryan proposal, according to Greenstein:
- Eliminates Pell Grants entirely for low-income students who have families to support, must work, and are attending school less than half time on top of their jobs.
- Resurrects the draconian benefit cuts in SNAP (food stamps) that the House passed last fall and adds $125 billion of SNAP cuts on top of them.
- Repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA), taking coverage away from the millions of people who have just attained it, and cuts Medicaid by $732 billion (by 26 percent by 2024) on top of the cuts
from repealing the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.
- At least 40 million low- and moderate-income people — that’s 1 in 8 Americans — would become uninsured by 2024. They include the 25 million otherwise-uninsured people that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects will gain coverage through the ACA by 2024.
I’m not holding my breath that any of these inconvenient facts will be raised among the polite chatter and clinking silverware at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill tomorrow. I suppose it would ruin the mood.
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I recently wrote in the National Catholic Reporter about Catholic leaders who never got the memo from Pope Francis. Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison is the latest to make you wonder how long it’s going to take for those refreshing winds blowing in Rome to be felt in U.S. dioceses.
Pope Francis angered liturgical traditionalists by washing the feet of women and Muslims during last year’s Holy Thursday liturgy. It was the first time a pope had included women in the rite, which commemorates Jesus washing the feet of his disciples the night before his crucifixion. Bucking centuries of tradition, the pope also held the ceremony at Casal del Marmo, a prison on the outskirts of Rome, instead of the swankier digs at St. Peter’s or the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
From the Wisconsin State Journal this week:
Three years ago, Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino issued guidelines that gave priests the option of either using only men or not celebrating the ritual at all. Given the heightened attention to foot-washing last year, some parishioners thought Morlino might re-evaluate his position. That has not happened. Brent King, the spokesman for the Diocese of Madison, said priests have the same two options this year — men only or no ritual.
Does Bishop Morlino fancy himself more Catholic than the pope?
This isn’t the first time the Wisconsin bishop has made news. When parishioners at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in his diocese raised strong concerns about a new group of traditionalist priests, Bishop Morlino took the unusual move of threatening those raising objections with formal church censure.
“This is a situation where push has come to shove and the bishop is asserting his authority and letting the people know, as it were, that he ‘owns the buildings and calls the shots,’” Dennis Doyle, a Catholic theologian at the University of Dayton, told the State Journal at the time.
Bishop Morlino, who sparked criticism from some theologians after his unusual interpretations of church teaching during heated debates over Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposals, has also warned that Catholics in the United States face “sophisticated persecution.”
Pope Francis wants a less defensive church that opens doors and is “bruised, hurting and dirty” after being “in the streets.” The leadership style of Bishop Morlino sends the message that Catholic identity and evangelization are best served by wielding authority like a club and drawing dividing lines in the sand.
I’m putting my collection-plate money on the fact that Pope Francis has a more effective, and more authentically Christian, strategy for renewing the church.
H/T The Deacon’s Bench
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Today at the Vatican, President Obama and Pope Francis met for the first time.
While detailed reports of the meeting aren’t out yet, there certainly wasn’t enough time to cover all the issues on which they share common concern. Climate change, staggering economic inequality, poverty, the plight of immigrants and refugees, and international conflict resolution all need focus from the world’s most powerful political leader and most recognizable faith leader. Given Pope Francis’s condemnation of “an economy of exclusion” and President Obama’s recent reference to those warnings, I think and hope that addressing the staggering gap between the wealthiest few and those left behind figured prominently.
Still fighting for affordable healthcare
Four years and several days ago, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. Now, after seemingly endless repeal attempts and obstruction, along with a very rocky rollout, the law is getting a chance to work for millions of American families.
While there are many challenges ahead, I’m proud to say that faith groups are playing a crucial role in making the law work.
But right now the biggest obstacle is the unconscionable decision by politicians in 25 states to reject the federally funded expansion of Medicaid. Fortunately this has become a rallying cry for the Moral Mondays movement in several key states. This movement will only grow stronger as conservative politicians’ immoral obstruction continues.
Faith groups such as NETWORK, Catholics United and PICO National Network were instrumental in the healthcare reform legislative debate in Washington. It’s only fitting that clergy and congregations are carrying on the fight in state capitals where politicians are making the lethal and immoral choice to deny their citizens the care they need.
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Last Saturday, more than 150 students from nine Catholic universities across the Midwest came together for Lighting the Pathway: Student Summit on Immigration Reform. The day long conference, co-organized by Faith in Public Life and the Ignatian Solidarity Network, was hosted by Loyola University Chicago and brought together students, administrators and DREAMers from DePaul University, Dominican University, Lewis University, Loyola Chicago, Marquette University, Notre Dame University, St. Mary’s College, John Carroll University and St. Xavier University.
From coast to coast, Catholic colleges and their students have been a vital part of the escalating campaign for immigration reform. Student leaders have put their faith into action by urging fellow students to act, fast, and pray to move the hearts and minds of members of Congress who continue to oppose immigration reform. Showing true moral courage and leadership, more than 100 Catholic college presidents have led the movement on campuses and late last year released a letter demanding Congress act to pass reform legislation.
In addition to workshops focused organizing skills, grassroots advocacy, and building a stronger movement, students heard from several inspiring speakers.
Veronica Soto, a DePaul student, spoke eloquently of her personal journey as a DREAMer and the obstacles undocumented status presents for her education, her family, and all those who aspire to a better life.
In the keynote address, Sr. Mary Ellen Lacy of Nuns on the Bus echoed the words of Pope Francis when she spoke of the clear call of the Gospels to be ‘our brother’s keeper.’
Students also heard from the legendary Sisters Pat Murphy and JoAnn Persch, who have led a weekly prayer vigil outside the Broadview Deportation Facility for 8 years. “We are always very polite and respectful and we never take no for an answer.” the Sisters said of their unique brand of prayerful activism.
In addition, Faith in Public Life presented three ‘Moral Courage’ awards for leadership on behalf of aspiring Americans:
- Srs. Pat Murphy and JoAnn Persch, of the Sisters of Mercy and Interfaith Committee for
- Loyola University of Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine for it’s decision last year to admit DACA-eligible students. The award was accepted by Dr. Mark Kuczewski, Chair of Medical Education, who was one of the catalysts of the change.
- President Donna Carroll of Dominican University for her leadership in making Dominican one of the first Catholic universities to openly welcome undocumented students.
Their collective work shows in stark terms that Catholic Social Teaching truly means welcoming the stranger among us. It was a humbling moment.
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A year ago today, the stunning resignation of Pope Benedict XVI paved the way for the unexpected Pope Francis revolution now shaking up the Catholic Church.
It’s an understatement to say a cerebral theologian more at home in the quiet of his study than on the global stage never became a defining figure in the way his predecessor did or his successor is quickly becoming. Many Catholics grateful that Pope Francis is emphasizing a more merciful and less doctrinaire vision of church had a hard time warming to Joseph Ratzinger, who as a cardinal made his most distinctive mark during his time at the Vatican’s doctrine office blowing the whistle on theologians, nuns and others deemed afoul of orthodoxy.
But the Benedict legacy often forgotten today amid the understandable euphoria over Pope Francis is a significant contribution to the Church’s social justice tradition. A pope largely viewed through the prism of popular media and culture as a staunch conservative for his opposition to gay marriage and abortion also trumpeted views to the left of most Democrats in Congress when it came to economic justice and the environment.
In his 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict denounced the “scandal of glaring inequalities” and called for a more just distribution of global wealth. A defining theme of Benedict’s papacy – especially after the 2008 global financial crisis – was an uncompromising critique of economic systems that subjugate the human person to the demands of profit. In his 2013 World Day of Peace message, he lamented “the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.” Along with “terrorism” and “international crime,” the pope named unfettered markets as a threat to stability and peace.
You’re unlikely to hear that kind of talk even from most liberal politicians. While free-market fundamentalists lobby for greater deregulation of markets and corporations, the Vatican’s justice and peace council during the Benedict era called for a “minimum, shared body of rules to manage the global financial market” and a “world reserve fund” to support countries hard hit by the economic crisis. He was no Catholic outlier, of course, and just as Pope Francis today Benedict inherits and articulates anew a centuries-old Catholic social tradition that defends the rights of workers and puts human dignity at the center of just economic systems.
Benedict also earned the title of “Green Pope” for defining environmental stewardship in stark moral terms, and his frequent warnings about climate change. More than any of his predecessors, he articulated a clear theology behind what he calls the “covenant between human beings and the environment.” In his 2010 World Day of Peace message, Benedict asked: “Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifiers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?”
These are bracing words for conservatives in position of power today who prefer denying the reality of climate change than proposing practical solutions. In 2011, the day before world leaders from 194 countries meet in Durban, South Africa to chart out next steps to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gases, Benedict urged the international community to “agree on a responsible, credible and supportive response to this worrisome and complex phenomenon, keeping in mind the needs of the poorest populations and of future generations.”
Historians will debate the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI for centuries, but we should not overlook his unambiguous teachings when it came to economic and social justice. In the end, of course, Benedict may be best remembered for his unexpected departure and the still unknown ways that seismic decision could reshape the Catholic Church.
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