Rep. Paul Ryan says principle of subsidiarity helped guide, shape his budget


David Brody: Tell me a little bit about the morality and the debt. Where does your Catholic faith play into the way this budget is crafted?

Paul Ryan: A person’s faith is central to how they conduct themselves in public and in private. So to me, using my Catholic faith, we call it the social magisterium, which is how do you apply the doctrine of your teaching into your everyday life as a lay person?

To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society of the principal of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.

Those principles are very very important, and the preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenants of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life. Help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence. reports:

The Wisconsin Republican said that he also drew on Catholic teachings regarding concern for the poor, and his interpretation of how that translated into government policy.

“[T]he preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck at their station in life, help people get out of poverty out onto life of independence,” said Ryan.

No word if any of Ryan’s Democrat opponents know what the word “subsidiarity” means. But CBN reports that Graeme Zielinski, Communications Director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, issued the following statement:

“For Paul Ryan to claim that the Catholic social teaching that emphasizes participation, solidarity and care for the least is the backbone of his divisive and exclusionary budget is an act of political cynicism. The American bishops have since the end of World War I called for government to provide a safety net to the orphan, the widow, the disabled, the poorest among us. Paul Ryan would shred that net while giving tax cuts to the richest and shredding a juridical system to oversee the market and protect other human beings. There are more than a few Catholics like me who are opposed to the Ryan budget precisely because of our faith, not in spite of it. It was Blessed John Paul, after all, who wrote, “It is right to struggle against an unjust economic system that does not uphold the priority of the human being over capital and land.”

However, it’s not only unclear how the quote from Bl. John Paul II substantiates Zielinski’s remarks, it’s not even clear where the quote is from. A search locates a PDF that has the quote originating in paragraph 35 of Bl. John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, but the official text doesn’t have the quote, or anything similar to it. But that paragraph does contain the following:

Here we find a wide range of opportunities for commitment and effort in the name of justice on the part of trade unions and other workers’ organizations. These defend workers’ rights and protect their interests as persons, while fulfilling a vital cultural role, so as to enable workers to participate more fully and honourably in the life of their nation and to assist them along the path of development.

In this sense, it is right to speak of a struggle against an economic system, if the latter is understood as a method of upholding the absolute predominance of capital, the possession of the means of production and of the land, in contrast to the free and personal nature of human work. In the struggle against such a system, what is being proposed as an alternative is not the socialist system, which in fact turns out to be State capitalism, but rather a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation. Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied.

All things being equal, does anyone really think that the U.S. has an economic system that can be described as thoroughly capitalist—that is, is completely or almost entirely free from the constraints of government oversight, regulation, control, and coercion? In fact, “State capitalism” might be a decent way of describing the U.S. economy, especially since so much more of it is under direct governmental control than it was just a few years ago. One would be tempted to conclude that Zielinski is simply trying to make political hay, but if his faith in Catholic social doctrine is half as strong as his faith in the goodness of  bureaucrats and the wisdom of governmental guidance, who can find fault? 

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About Carl E. Olson 1200 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.