Paul Ryan undermines his own social gospel

Paul Ryan's photo-op cleaning clean pans at an empty soup kitchen in Ohio brought him much criticism, and the "publicity stunt" upset the head of Mahoning Countys St. Vincent de Paul Society, Brian J. Antal, who said he did not want the kitchen politicized and feared the possible backlash.Now Antal tells the HuffPo that fear is being realized anddonors have begun pulling their money out of the Youngstown, Ohio charity in protest over the embarrassment Ryan suffered:

Ryan supporters have now targeted Antal and his soup kitchen, Antal said, including making hundreds of angry phone calls. Some members of Antal's volunteer staff have had to endure the barrage as well, he said. "The sad part is a lot of [the callers] want to hide behind anonymity," he said, adding that if someone leaves their name and number he has tried to return their call. In addition to phone calls, people have posted a few choice words on the charity's Facebook wall, including statements like "I hope you lose your tax [sic] emempt status," Anyone who is thinking about donations to you should think twice" and "Shame on you Brian Antal!"......Antal said doesn't understand why donors would take out their frustration over the incident on those who can't afford to pay for their own meals. "I'm a volunteer,' he said. "I receive zero compensation. Withholding donations is only going to hurt the over 100,000 we serve annually."

It's a terrible story, and I'm sure Ryan didn't want it to go this way, for reasons personal as well as political. (Maybe he should send a check; maybe we all should.)But the episode has a deeper lesson in that it undermines Ryan's contention -- which he claims is Catholic social teaching -- that care of the poor is an individual responsibility that each person of faith must fulfill. It's not the government's job, as he says.But the backlash against the St. Vincent DePaul Society shows why that can't be the case. People, even people of faith, don't consistently fulfill that responsibility. They -- we -- are flawed human beings who nurse grudges and lash out when angry. We can go blithely on our way, to the next task, the next meal, the next campaign stop -- and the vulnerable suffer. Private charity is not a safety net. Government support is indispensable. The parable of Paul Ryan and the soup kitchen should demonstrate this if nothing else.

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.

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