House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) argued two weeks ago that his right-wing budget agenda was inspired by his Roman Catholic faith. In retrospect, that probably wasn't the best idea he's ever had.
Last week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said Ryan's plan fails to meet certain "moral criteria" by disproportionately cutting programs that "serve poor and vulnerable people." They added the cuts are "unjustified and wrong."
This week, faculty members at one of the nation's most notable Catholic colleges entered the fray.
The latest criticism comes in a letter released Tuesday and signed by nearly 90 faculty members and priests at Georgetown, the Jesuit university in Washington, in advance of Mr. Ryan's visit there on Thursday. Mr. Ryan is to deliver the prestigious Whittington Lecture, named for an associate dean who was killed on the airplane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
The letter says, "We would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few."
"Your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ," says the letter, which the faculty members sent to Mr. Ryan along with a copy of the Vatican's Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church -- "to help deepen your understanding of Catholic social teaching."
To reiterate a point from last week, there's a compelling case to be made that conflicts between politicians and their church is a private matter, but given the larger context, there's nevertheless some real political salience to these developments.
Just at a surface level, it's politically problematic for Republicans, who generally claim the high ground on matters of religion and righteousness, to have prominent Catholics criticizing Ryan for trying to punish poor families during difficult economic times.
But we can go further. Remember, for example, that Republicans just spent weeks arguing that those who disagree with the bishops and prominent Catholic voices on contraception are guilty of waging a war on faith. It now appears that it's Paul Ryan with a religion "problem."