WASHINGTON -- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) defended his budget on Thursday from criticisms that it is inconsistent with Catholic social principles. Speaking at Georgetown University, he rejected claims by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and some Georgetown faculty that his budget misinterpreted the religion's teachings.
"I suppose that there are some Catholics who for a long time thought they had a monopoly of sorts ... on the social teaching of our church," Ryan said during a speech that attracted a full audience and a number of of protesters. "Of course there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this. The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it."
Ryan's proposed budget is a controversial, sweeping plan that would largely privatize Medicare and make deep cuts to programs including Medicaid and food stamps. The bill has been opposed by Democrats, including President Barack Obama, who called it "nothing but thinly-veiled Social Darwinism."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has also opposed the budget, writing in a letter that it failed to meet moral obligations to poor people.
Ryan contended that a government-centered approach was failing the poor and that his plan would create the necessary economic growth to lift people out of poverty as well as manage the debt. "The Holy Father himself, Pope Benedict, has charged governments, communities and individuals running up high debt levels are 'living at the expense of future generations, and living in untruth.'"
"Our budget offers a better path consistent with the timeless principles of our nation's founding and, frankly, consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith," Ryan said. "We put faith in people, not in government."
Father Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University who helped to organize a letter from Georgetown faculty that challenged Ryan's understanding of Catholic doctrine, said the lecture left him unconvinced.
"Everybody looks at the Gospel, everybody looks at Catholic social teaching and then makes up their own mind about how it applies in the real world. We all do that," Reese told The Huffington Post. "But, I think that we, the faculty at Georgetown University, who have studied Catholic social teaching, look at his budget and say, 'Hey, wait a minute, you're balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.'''
Reese viewed Ryan's lecture as a positive chance for dialogue but didn't feel it was grounded in Catholic teaching, he said. "Everybody's worried about the debt, but you can't quote the pope to say that the debt should be solved by cutting government programs that help poor people and not raising taxes."
On Thursday Ryan also addressed his prospects as a potential vice presidential pick, downplaying the chances but not ruling out the possibility. "Look, I've got an important job where I am right now; I'm content with this job," he said in response to a question. "I feel that America is at a very unique moment, and we've got to get it right and don't underestimate the importance of Congress in all of this. So, who knows about those things?"