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Mitt Romney Criticized By Franciscan Friars For Comments On The Poor

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House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) introduces Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney before Romney spoke at the Grain Exchange in Milwaukee. (M. Spencer Green / AP)
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) introduces Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney before Romney spoke at the Grain Exchange in Milwaukee. (M. Spencer Green / AP)

WASHINGTON-- The Franciscan Action Network (FAN), a Catholic faith-based advocacy and civic engagement organization, is strongly criticizing Mitt Romney's recent ads and rhetoric regarding welfare programs and welfare recipients, urging him to spend some time in low-income communities.

"Our Christian tradition teaches that we are to treat the poor with dignity and to prioritize the poor in our policies as a society," the organization said in a press release on Thursday. "At a time when millions are struggling financially, it is degrading to talk about the 'dependency' of people hurting in this economy, as Gov. Romney did recently."

Rhett Engelking, a secular Franciscan in Milwaukee and member of FAN, has even personally invited Romney to visit with the low-income people he assists. “Political leaders would not talk about the poor in demeaning ways or cut job training programs if they spent more time with the people they are affecting with their policies," he said.

While faith-based anti-poverty and charity organizations have often criticized candidates and lawmakers for a perceived unwillingness to highlight and tackle issues affecting the very poor, FAN claims Romney's rhetoric goes a step further, unfairly using welfare recipients as political props.

FAN spokesman Lonnie Ellis told The Huffington Post that what Romney is doing is "worse than ignoring" poor people. He said Romney is essentially criticizing President Barack Obama for helping out low-income individuals. "It's saying look, 'President Obama is actually supporting poor people too much, or he's just giving a free ride to poor people,'" Ellis said. "So it's actually using poor people in a really bad way."

FAN's criticism, however, goes beyond the Romney campaign's rhetoric on welfare by condemning cuts to Pell Grants, Medicaid and Head Start programs put forth in the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and supported by Romney.

“With the political conversation now on ensuring that low-income people are working, the most blatant affront is that the Romney-Ryan Budget actually cuts job training programs for low-income people,” FAN Executive Director Patrick Carolan said in a statement.

The Romney campaign could not immediately be reached for comment.

While many Catholic groups have generally been supportive of Romney and Republicans on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, FAN joins several other prominent Catholic organizations in their harsh criticism of the Romney campaign's stance on welfare and the Ryan budget.

As ThinkProgress reported, NETWORK, a Catholic social justice advocacy group, has supported the national "Nuns On A Bus" tour, which is aimed at highlighting the negative effects of Ryan's proposed cuts, and invited Romney to spend a day with Catholic nuns helping the poor in their communities.

In April, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a series of letters to congressional lawmakers criticizing the Ryan budget, saying that fair budget solutions "must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs."

"The House-passed budget resolution," the Bishops said in the letter, "fails to meet these moral criteria."

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