House Republicans have released an exchange of friendly letters between Rep. Paul Ryan and Archbishop Timothy Dolan, trying to make it appear as if the GOP budget proposal for 2012 is in sync with Catholic social teaching.Some news accounts from Washington have fallen for the spin and reported that Dolan had written that the GOP budget plan takes Catholic social teaching into account. But if you actually read the letters instead of the press releases, it's clear that Archbishop Dolan is non-committal on the Republicans' budget proposals. Instead, he politely commends Ryan for the values he claims to hold in his April 29 letter.There is no indication, for example, that Dolan accepts Ryan's claim that his proposal for Medicare is consistent with the preferential option for the poor. Dolan writes that he appreciates Ryan's assurances that his budget would protect the poor, then adds, "While appreciating these assurances, our duty as pastors will motivate our close attention to the manner in which they become a reality."Ryan's letter cites the church's position on subsidiarity, quoting the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (No. 186) that "it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do." He asserts: "In American political terms, this is the same purpose as `federalism.' " Ryan also cited a passage in Pope John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus Annus (No. 48) opposing the "Social Assistance State."Dolan, responding in his role as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, did not let this go without comment. He noted in his letter that the principle of subsidiarity is interrelated with the principle of solidarity, and quoted Pope John Paul II as writing in Centesimus Annus that the higher order community must support the lower one in case of need and help to coordinate its activities with the rest of society, "always with a view to the common good."I remember that years ago, then-Senator Al D'Amato (R-N.Y.) called Catholic social teachings "wacky" in a broadcast interview. More recently, Glenn Beck advised Christians to "run" from any church that preaches social justice. So it is refreshing to see Speaker John Boehner (smarting a little from the controversy some Catholic academics raised over his adherence to Catholic social teaching?) and Ryan (both Catholics) frame their policies in terms of the preferential option for the poor. But, to borrow a phrase from Dolan's letter, it will be interesting to see "the manner in which they become a reality" - and how other Catholic voices respond to Ryan's analysis of his budget in light of Catholic social teaching.
Paul Moses is the author, most recently, of The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia (NYU Press, 2023). He is a contributing writer. Twitter: @PaulBMoses.