Two weeks ago, over 150 Catholic theologians and scholars issued a statement “On All of Our Shoulders” to help us focus on making moral choices in the upcoming election. Drawing on the magisterium such Catholic intellectuals as John Langan, S.J., Thomas Reese, S.J., Bryan N. Massingale, Dolores R. Leckey, James E. Hug S.J., Peter Steinfels, Elizabeth Johnson CSJ, Anthony Ruff OSB, Alexander DiLella, John F Haught, Jay P. Dolan, and Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, (along with twelve dozen others) have put out a thought-provoking analysis of the philosophical arguments that underlay the political choices in this year’s election. “On All of Our Shoulders” certainly does away with the lie that the question of for whom a Catholic should vote in the upcoming election is an open and shut case. It particularly demolishes the misrepresentation that Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan’s Catholic faith is the root of his political philosophy. This is not to say that Congressman Ryan is not a good Catholic—far from it. The Congressman has shown us the importance of his Catholic pieties but it does show us that his social vision is directly opposed to the Magisterium. I am taking the liberty of posting “On All of Our Shoulders” in several segments over the next few weeks. This is not an endorsement of the Obama/Biden ticket. Our bishops and their allies in the Republican Party (read Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus) have made us well aware of the serious moral questions posed by the Democratic Platform, in particular by the Democratic support for legalized abortion. They have also waved the canard of the Obama Administration posing a threat to Religious Liberty in an effort to divide the Catholic electorate from its traditional home in the Democratic Party. That strategy does not seem to be working any better in 2012 than it did in 2008. What “On All of Our Shoulders” does, however, is to make clear to the Catholic voter that the alternative is every bit as problematic and at least as fundamentally opposed to Catholic teaching. But then you are all adults and can think for yourself, so I will simply post the statement, as I said, in readable size portions.
On all of Our Shoulders
A Catholic Call to protect the Endangered Common Good
We write as Catholic theologians, academics and ministers concerned for our nation and for the integrity of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. We write to hold up aspects of the Church's social doctrine that are profoundly relevant to the challenges our nation faces at this moment in history, yet are in danger of being ignored. At a moment when the ideas of Atlas Shrugged influence public debate and policy, we write to proclaim the Catholic truth that the stewardship of common good rests upon all of our shoulders together. This is a responsibility we dare not shrug. We fulfill this obligation in myriad ways, but indispensibly among them, through the policies of our government. We highlight these principles of the Church's social doctrine in the hope that their substance will better influence our political and policy debates.
A Tipping Point
America is at a tipping point where the traditional commitment of our government to protecting and advancing the common good is in very real danger of being dismantled for generations. Members of the "Tea Party," libertarians, Ayn Rand followers and other proponents of small government have brought libertarian views of government into the mainstream; legitimating forms of social indifference. After decades of anti-government rhetoric and "starve the beast" tax cuts, some even appear to exploit predictable fiscal problems to establish a privatized, libertarian order that reduces society to a collection of individuals and shrinks the common good to fit the outcomes achievable by private, for profit firms.
A Threat to the Church's Teachings
Congressman Paul Ryan's candidacy for Vice President brings the threat of this social philosophy home to the Church. We do not question Paul Ryan's faith. We are concerned however, that defenders of Ryan have gone beyond highlighting the aspects of Catholic moral teaching with which his political positions are laudably consistent, to argue that his Ayn Rand "inspired" individualist and anti-government vision and the policies they inform are themselves legitimately Catholic. They are not.We do not write to oppose Ryan's candidacy or to argue there are not legitimatereasons for Catholics to vote for him. Our concern is that Ryan and his Catholic supporters, must be informed—as prochoice candidates and Catholics who vote for them are perennially and appropriately reminded—that some of his positions are fundamentally at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
We fear the Church's legitimate disagreement with the inadequate exemptions in the Obama administration's contraceptive insurance mandate will lead some bishops to avoid giving due scrutiny to Ryan's disagreements with or misunderstandings of the Church's social teaching. This would be a tragic failure of episcopal oversight. Presidential campaigns have enormous power to legitimate their messages. If Congressman Ryan's Randian vision is allowed to be promoted as Catholic, many believers will be confused and our nation will be deprived of the Church's full wisdom.
Congressman Ryan has forthrightly proclaimed his inspiration by Ayn Rand. This was no passing youthful phase. Few politicians have offered so comprehensive a statement of a social philosophy and shown its links to their policy priorities and political strategies as Congressmen Ryan did in his remarkable 2005 address to the Atlas Society. In addition to naming Rand as the "one thinker" whom he would credit for his entering public service, he stated that he repeatedly returns to Atlas Shrugged to "check my premises so that I know that what I'm believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism." From this perspective he judged "defined benefit" safety net programs such as Social Security and Medicare to be "collectivist" and "socialist based." He called for privatizing of Social Security and Medicare into individually funded programs in order to "change the dynamics in this society" and to form "believers in the individualist capitalist system."  These values and policy priorities are evident throughout the several budget resolutions he has authored. Defined benefit programs are an explicit target in themselves because they foster "dependence"—a term he invokes 5 times in his 2013 budget resolution. Congressman Ryan's concerns about the growing Federal debt are commendable. It is clear, however, that he had a prior philosophical bias against publically funded safety net programs independent of these fiscal concerns.Given these values, it seems reasonable to conclude that Ryan's deep cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps are policy priorities themselves. Thus, it is not surprising, that the savings achieved by these cuts are swamped by revenue losses resulting from massive new tax cuts for high earners and corporations.
Ryan's rejection of Rand's atheism is laudable, as are his public avowal of the thought of Thomas Aquinas and Catholic social doctrine. We do not question the sincerity of his convictions, but must note that a shift from the social philosophy of Ayn Rand to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church is a radical change indeed. Such a conversion would take much time and reflection. Congressman Ryan's policies have remained unchanged through this shift. This suggests that they may in fact still be more indebted to the social principles of Rand than to Aquinas and the Catholic Church. Clarification of the substance of Catholic social doctrine will assist him and other Catholics in discernment of these policies.
1 Address by Paul Ryan to Atlas Society "Celebration of Ayn Rand," 2005. (Published transcript is incomplete. Quotes are taken from audio file.) http://www.atlassociety.org/ele/blog/2012/04/30/paul-ryan-and-ayn-rands-ideas-hot-seat-again.