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Paul Ryan discusses faith and public policy, distinguishes non-negotiable issues from prudential judgments

September 17, 2012

Asked by a reporter for his “take” on “this big schism between the social justice Catholics and the pro-life Catholics,” vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan distinguished “non-negotiable issues” like life and marriage from prudential judgments.

“I, as a conservative Catholic can no more claim sole justification for my political views than a liberal can for theirs,” Ryan told David Brody of CBN News. “The social Magisterium is very broad in allowing the lay [faithful] to exercise what we call prudential judgment to apply their principles to the problems of the day.”

“Now, there are key issues, intrinsic issues, life and marriage and things like this, that are really non-negotiable, and the Church is very clear on that,” Ryan continued. “But on other issues, of economics and such like that, that’s a matter of prudential judgment.”

Ryan added:

Now what we believe as practicing Catholics, as conservative Catholics is that our job is to go after the root cause of poverty, to try and eradicate poverty. When we talk about ideas, principles like subsidiarity in conjunction with solidarity and preferential option for the poor what that means is we believe in civil society. We believe in individuals in their community and solidarity with one another working to create a better common good for everybody; helping people in need, protecting the voiceless like the unborn. These things are central to who we are and the notion that you can divorce these principles, these matters of faith between private life and public life that doesn’t jive with the thinking of a Catholic.

And so sure there are differences of opinion on how to achieve an end. We believe in attacking the root cause of poverty not simply treating the symptoms so it’s more tolerable and that means having a vibrant civil society and when government gets too big and too intrusive and too dictatorial then it crowds out civil society. It makes it harder for those institutions that are the mediating institutions between the person and their government to flourish; churches, charities, civic organizations.

When my boys go to Cub Scouts they learn values at Cub Scouts. When we put the Pinewood Derby together or the Raingutter Regatta, when my daughter gets involved in her local charities or things like this, this is what ties people together and the notion that the government is the center of our society, of our economy, in our life is just a notion that is foreign to us who are people of faith who believe in these principles


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  • Posted by: impossible - Sep. 20, 2012 6:33 PM ET USA

    Archbishop Chaput in Philly: “Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period. There’s just no doubt about it. That has to be a foundational concern of Catholics and of all Christians. But Jesus didn’t say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I can’t make as a Catholic. ...

  • Posted by: koinonia - Sep. 17, 2012 10:41 PM ET USA

    I believe he just said more and he said it more concisely than anything from the USCCB. He has that "Catholic sense," a thing that is on the verge of extinction. "These things are central to who we are and the notion that you can divorce these principles, these matters of faith between private life and public life that doesn’t jive with the thinking of a Catholic." Mr. Ryan articulates something that is as relevant to Catholic prelates and Catholic catechesis as it is to society as a whole.

  • Posted by: John Chrysostom - Sep. 17, 2012 9:18 PM ET USA

    Paul Ryan's witness of Catholicism is refreshing. For too many years the USCCB has rightly been known as the "DNC at Prayer". One does not have to be a socialist in order to be a good Catholic.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Sep. 17, 2012 8:12 PM ET USA

    This guy is the most "Catholic" politician (big "C") to run for high office in my lifetime. God bless him for taking a stand on principle. The other guys wouldn't know a principle if it clobbered them in the gut.

  • Posted by: joancollins507161 - Sep. 17, 2012 6:57 PM ET USA

    Paul Ryan has his information right. I can't understand why Catholics fail to see that big social programs are inevitably a bad idea. Not only are they unsustainable financially, but they also rob us of freedom, put the burden of charity on government instead of individuals, and strip the recipients of ambition and self-respect. Of course the government needs to protect the truly sick, handicapped, etc., but it needs to give others an equal opportunity to succeed on their own.

  • Posted by: rpp - Sep. 17, 2012 3:39 PM ET USA

    He does indeed seem very thoughtful and a well catechized man. Some people, however, will never get the "prudential judgment" thing, they always want to insist on a biblical citation for any action or decision. Others will claim "legislating morality" or other similar nonsense. All laws, including those regarding rape, theft and murder, are based on morality.