A columnist in The Wall Street Journal (“Social Justice and Ryan the Heretic“) this morning took on liberal Catholics’ criticisms of Paul Ryan. For a moment, my heart leapt at the prospect of a discussion of the meaning of “subsidiarity” (hey, some people get excited that football season is coming; go figure) but it was not to be. This piece existed on a more modest intellectual plane. It was more in the line of, “Oh, yeah! Well, so’s yer mother!”
That is to say, the writer was accusing the left of adopting such a position.
Here’s how the piece concluded:
Unfortunately, suggesting that Mr. Ryan is a bad Catholic is the entire case. Stuck with the fact of Mr. Biden, who has long since made his peace with the party’s absolutism on abortion, progressive Catholics know that it would be laughable to try to present Mr. Biden as faithful to church teaching. They know too that clarity about church teaching does not work to their advantage. The only way to take on Mr. Ryan is to tear him down.
In the past, the liberal Catholic vision sought to inspire. Today, in the pages of the venerable lay Catholic magazine Commonweal, a blogger tries to diminish Paul Ryan by saying, “like the rest of us, he is a Cafeteria Catholic.” Surely it says something about a movement when its most powerful argument against an opponent is this: You are just as lousy as we are.
Think about that. In another age, Catholic progressives would have laughed at the suggestion that people were corrupted by reading certain works; now they believe Paul Ryan’s soul is in peril for his having read Ayn Rand. Before, they would not have feared science; now they insist that a program such as food stamps ought to continue ad infinitum without consideration of its effects. And while they believe that the pope and bishops have nothing of value to offer about the sanctity of marriage or the duty of protecting unborn life, when it comes to federal spending, suddenly a miter means infallibility.
But while columnist McGurn accurately pegs the liberals, he comes up with little substantive defense of Mr. Ryan’s rather odd interpretation of Catholic social teaching, beyond quoting a column by Ryan’s own bishop saying that unlike on abortion, Catholics might legitimately disagree “on issues such as how best to create jobs or help the poor.” I think the bishop has a point. But I’d still like to see a serious discussion of how well Mr. Ryan applies Catholic principles.
Lacking such a ringing endorsement, we are left to conclude, if this is all the evidence we go by, that there is no “good Catholic” to be found on either ticket.
But let’s be optimistic. Let’s say that Mr. Ryan and Mr. Biden reflect different sides of the faith. Put them together, and pare away their objectionable positions, and you have one pretty good Catholic.