"Can American Catholics vote for Paul Ryan?"

In the 25 August issue of the London Tablet, Clifford Longleys column discusses the candidature of Paul Ryan and wonders about episcopal reactions to his endorsement of the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Longley believes, as did Rand herself, that it really is not possible simultaneously to be both a supporter of Rand and a faithful member of the Catholic Church. There follows this paragraph:

The US Catholic bishops have a reputation for doctrinal watchfulness where politicians are concerned, some of them even announcing that they would exclude the 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry from Holy Communion because of his (qualified) support for abortion. Ryans attachment to Rands economic theories is more questionable, and indeed in terms of Catholic Social Teaching must be regarded as heretical. Although one would never like to see church discipline invoked to impose Catholic Social Teaching on anyone against their [sic] will, there is as clear a need for episcopal leadership in this case as in that one. Can American Catholics vote for Paul Ryan? One would think not, and the bishops should say so.

His sentence about the 2004 presidential race should have noted that it was a minority of US bishops who threatened to withhold Communion from John Kerry. And what dogmas in Catholic Social Teaching would make opposing views heretical?Longley returns to hyperbole in his last sentences:

The official Catholic analysis of the presidential election appears to be that President Obama is now such an enemy of Catholicism because of his positions on contraception, abortion and gay marriage, that he has to be defeated at all costs. The candidature of Romney and Ryan are the means for doing so. And nothing else counts.

Do we really want bishops declaring openly that Catholics cannot vote for Obama or cannot vote for Romney? And what effect would either declaration have on Catholics? My sense is that most Catholics dont look to bishops for specific guidance in their electoral choices, and I believe that most US bishops do not think that is part of their mandate.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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