The GOP’s Catholic Problem?

August 16, 2012, 5:47 pm | Posted by

Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential choice is an insult to many Catholic leaders who have consistently challenged Ryan’s claims that coddling the rich while expecting the working poor and middle class to bear the burden of deficit reduction reflects the values of Catholic teaching. A presidential candidate aggressively courting Catholic voters – including with this scorching ad that accuses President Obama of waging a “war on religion” –  has now picked a running mate who is the most vociferous champion of an economic agenda that makes a mockery of Christian values. There is nothing Christian, “pro-life” or courageous about policies that gut effective programs that help pregnant women, the hungry, the jobless and low-income children.

Catholics are steeped in a religious tradition that puts community and the common good before extreme individualism. Ryan’s libertarian love affair with Ayn Rand and his Tea-Party flavored anti-government zeal is alien to this Catholic worldview. His proposals find no endorsement from centuries of Catholic social teaching or the Gospel. I expect a sizable swath of moderate Catholic voters in key states to roll their eyes at Ryan’s lofty appeals to the wonders of the free market and privatization. Some of these working-class voters might not be staunch Democrats, but they know that Medicare helps their grandmother and food stamps are often the difference between paying the bills and sending the kids to bed hungry. They might ask why Ryan, who benefited from his deceased father’s Social Security survivor benefits to pay for college, now wants to pull the rug out from other families who can be given a hand up by effective government programs that for decades helped grow the middle class.

In a flurry of letters to House leaders, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has unambiguously denounced Ryan’s budget proposal – the ideological blueprint for the GOP’s economic agenda – as failing a basic moral test. Catholic nuns recently highlighted the immorality of the Ryan budget (now the Romney-Ryan budget) during a nine-state bus tour. These Catholic nuns recently joined the Franciscan Action Network  – an organization made up of priests, nuns and lay Franciscans – to invite Mr. Romney and Rep. Ryan to spend time at agencies that would be decimated by their policies.

Here’s my question for Catholic bishops. Will you expend even half as much institutional energy educating Catholic voters about Rep. Ryan’s deeply un-Christian economic plans as you have on flogging the Obama administration over contraception coverage? Letters to Capitol Hill are important, but most voters don’t read them. When will we see a parish bulletin insert about the devastating consequences of Ryan’s economic plans from the U.S. bishops’ conference? Unlike the recent two-week “Fortnight for Freedom” religious liberty campaign, launched with special Masses and great fanfare in dioceses across the country, I haven’t seen any bishop strongly challenge the GOP’s war on the poor and middle class. Bishops could draw some inspiration from their own history, and the example of another Ryan.

Back in 1919, Catholic bishops recruited Monsignor John Ryan, a Catholic priest whose thinking on labor and social inequality were widely read in the decades following World War I, to write their Program for Social Reconstruction. This was a bold plan for what at the time were visionary social reforms: minimum wages, public housing for workers, labor participation in management decisions, and insurance for the elderly, disabled and unemployed. The bishops’ proposal and Ryan’s rising star in Washington laid the groundwork for New Deal legislation proposed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the following decades.

It’s tragic that nearly a century later influential Catholics like Rep. Paul Ryan, flush with cash from billionaires funding the Tea Party movement, are now promoting Darwinian policies that betray this proud legacy.


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Deal Hudson and Paul Ryan vs. The U.S. Catholic Bishops

August 14, 2012, 2:09 pm | Posted by

Analyzing the Catholic dimensions of the 2012 Presidential race now that Paul Ryan has joined the Republican ticket, Catholic conservative Deal Hudson attempts to minimize the critique of Ryan’s budget plan levied by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Hudson decries that media who covered the critical letters from the USCCB failed to note that they came from only two bishops, suggesting that their concerns only represent some bishops, not all.

That’s the same defense Ryan employed when questioned about the bishops’ rebuke earlier this year. Unfortunately for both Ryan and Hudson, the conference definitively shot down their excuse.

Responding to reporters who inquired about Ryan’s apparent discrepancy in understanding, the USCCB said:

“Bishops who chair USCCB committees are elected by their fellow bishops to represent all of the U.S. bishops on key issues at the national level. The letters on the budget were written by bishops serving in this capacity.”

While there might be individual bishops who disagree with these committees’ criticisms of the Ryan budget, they (and Hudson and Ryan) do so as dissenters from the official position of the U.S. Catholic Church.

Photo from the National Catholic Reporter

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Missouri Supreme Court Paves Way for Payday Lending Ballot Initiative

August 6, 2012, 2:10 pm | Posted by

Payday lendingMissouri citizens won an important victory last week as the state Supreme Court ruled to allow a ballot initiative to cap payday lending rates to go forward this year. Currently, Missouri allows some of the worst predatory lending abuses in the country, with interest rates as high as 400% being perfectly legal. The proposed initiative would cap rates at 36% to break the cycle of inescapable debt and financial difficulty the current rates cause.

The ruling comes as positive news to the Missourians for Responsible Lending campaign, the state coalition that collected over 350,000 signatures to put this petition on the ballot. The coalition includes faith groups like Communities Creating Opportunity, a Kansas City affiliate of the PICO National Network. Their impressive effort came despite a concerted effort by corporate interests to keep voters from weighing in on this issue. As a new report from Public Campaign reveals, special interests have funneled over $2.1 million into a shadowy astro-turf group called Missourians for Equal Credit Opportunity to block the initiative.

As campaign organizers have attested, corporate interests will stoop to truly thuggish tactics to protect their profits. Signature gatherers were followed, physically obstructed, and harassed by “blockers” who  tried to thwart their efforts. Molly Fleming-Pierre, an organizer with Communities Creating Opportunities, described the intimidation tactics in May:

“Our people were taunted, mocked, bullied, and verbally assaulted down there. Sometimes it was nine big burly guys to one young female canvasser — trying to kick her off a site. She stayed. One of our pastors had the opposition blockers screaming in her face for nearly 30 minutes that she was a liar. Tails would follow our people, texting their blockers when our people would set up to canvass so that the intimidation was always mobile.”

Read more here:
Read more here:

Someone even broke into an organizer’s car and stole 5,500 signatures shortly before a crucial deadline.

With the ruling, the initiative now only awaits the Secretary of State’s final certification of the signatures collected by Tuesday.

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Family Research Council Silent as GOP AttacksTheir Priorities

August 2, 2012, 12:26 pm | Posted by

FRC Child Tax CreditAs yesterday’s statement from religious leaders showed, the House Republican vote to drastically roll back refundable tax credits that benefit working families (which 19 misguided Democrats joined) has put them on the opposite side of the faith community. And not just the progressive and moderate faith community — the GOP plan is so radically anti-family, it’s more extreme than even far-right religious groups.

In particular, by attacking the Child Tax Credit, House Republicans took aim at a key policy priority of the Family Research Council, usually one of their closest allies. Not only does FRC boast of “conceiving” the original idea for the credit, they’ve consistently campaigned for Congress to make it permanent and quintuple its maximum amount from the current $1,000 per child to $5,000. In contrast, the House GOP plan passed yesterday cuts the average family’s tax credit by $854.

When this issue came up last April, FRC was part of a diverse coalition of faith and family groups lobbying to protect this crucial policy. They even launched a petition to Congress that garnered over 37,000 signatures.

But in this latest round, as Republican extremism and obstruction threatens working families with this painful tax hike, FRC appears to have gone quiet. If FRC were truly committed to pro-family policy over partisan politics, they would have leaned on their Republican allies to vote against these dangerous cuts.

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60 Christian Leaders to Congress: Don’t Dismantle Pro-Family Tax Credits

August 1, 2012, 7:00 am | Posted by

A diverse coalition of 60 faith leaders are releasing a statement today expressing their strong opposition to any legislative proposal that fails to extend the 2009 improvements made to refundable tax credits such as the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit:

These tax credits help families meet basic needs, reduce poverty, and remove barriers to work. It is hypocritical for lawmakers who talk about family values to abandon improvements in these effective, family-supporting programs. Failing to extend the improved tax credits would jeopardize the economic security and well-being of more than 15 million families and more than 36 million children within those families. This is simply unconscionable.

The statement comes as the House prepares to vote on competing tax plans as early as today. The Democratic plan already passed by the Senate would preserve tax breaks for 98% of Americans, only allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for income over $250,000 earned by the top 2%. The House GOP proposal, on the other hand, would raise taxes on 25 million working Americans by undoing improvements to the aforementioned refundable tax credits in order to preserve tax breaks for the wealthiest few.

In addition to the statement, six of the letter-signers will hold a press conference on the Hill this morning sending the same message. Today’s speakers include FPL Executive Director Rev. Jennifer ButlerRev. David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World; Rev. Jim Wallis, President and CEO, Sojourners; Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby; Rev. Michael Livingston, Director, National Council of Churches Poverty Initiative; and Rev. Noel Castellanos, CEO, Christian Community Development Association

UPDATE: Video from the event below.

Other letter signers include:

Mark J. Allman, Religious Theological Studies Department, Merrimack College
Gerald J. Beyer, Associate Professor of Theology, Saint Joseph’s University
Joanna Brooks, Progressive Mormon author
Bishop John R. Bryant, African Methodist Episcopal Church
Nicholas P. Cafardi, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, Duquesne University School of Law
Tony Campolo, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Eastern University
Patrick Carolan, Executive Director, Franciscan Action Network
Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J., Editor in Chief, America Magazine
Richard Cizik, President, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
Rev. John A. Coleman, S.J., Associate Pastor, St. Ignatius Parish, San Francisco
M. Shawn Copeland, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Boston College
Rev. Chuck Currie, Minister, Sunnyside Church and University Park Church, Portland, Oregon
Nancy Dallavalle, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Department of Religious Studies, Fairfield University
Marie Dennis, Co-President, Pax Christi International
Sr. Pat Farrell, OSF, President, Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, Stillman Professor for Roman Catholic Theological Studies, Harvard Divinity School
Rev. Michael Harrison, President, Ohio Baptist State Convention
Rev. Dr. Peter Heltzel, Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary
Sr. Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Boston College
Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, A Church Distributed
John Inglis, Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, Cross-appointed to Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton
Paul Lakeland, Aloysius P. Kelly, S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies, Fairfield University
Sr. Gayle Lwanga Crumbley, RGS, National Coordinator, National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
Kathleen Maas Weigert, Assistant to the Provost for Social Justice Initiatives, Loyola University, Chicago
Rev. Steven D. Martin, Executive Director, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
Rev. Bryan N. Massingale, Professor of Theological Ethics, Marquette University
Gene McCarraher, Associate Professor of Humanities, Villanova University
Sr. Patricia McDermott, RSM, President, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Rev. Brian McLaren, Evangelical writer and speaker
Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary, American Baptist Churches, USA
Alex Mikulich, Assistant Professor, Jesuit Social Research Institute, Loyola University, New Orleans
Vincent J. Miller, Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture, Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton
Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III, Senior Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago
Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness, Washington, DC
David O’Brien, University Professor of Faith and Culture, University of Dayton
William L. Portier, Chair of Catholic Theology, University of Dayton
Christopher Pramuk, Associate Professor of Theology, Xavier University, Cincinnati
Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J., Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University
Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition
Stephen F. Schneck, Director, Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, The Catholic University of America
Ron Sider, President, Evangelicals for Social Action
Anthony B. Smith, Associate Professor, Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton
John Sniegocki, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, Xavier University, Cincinnati
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Professor of Theology and former President, Chicago Theological Seminary
Terrence W. Tilley, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology and Chair, Theology Department, Fordham University, Bronx
Bishop Edgar L. Vann, Second Ebeneezer Church, Detroit
Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada
Todd Whitmore, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, University of Notre Dame
Barbara Williams-Skinner, Founder, Skinner Leadership Institute
Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodist Church
Tobias Winright, Associate Professor of Theological Ethics, Saint Louis University
Aidsand Wright-Riggins, III, Executive Director, American Baptist Home Mission Societies


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