A couple of things were different at 9:45 a.m. Mass at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Janesville on Sunday. Rep.Paul D. Ryan, a fixture in the center pews when he’s not in Washington or on a national news show, was missing. And reporters were crawling around outside wanting to talk about why.
Ryan was in Charlotte, N.C., waking up as the new Republican candidate for vice president. The 42-year-old, seven-term congressman still made it to a Mass before hitting the campaign trail with running mate Mitt Romney.
“Our father always had us at church on time,” said Tobin Ryan, the congressman’s brother, as he walked out of church. “But each of us grew up to discover our own path. And Paul has certainly chosen his beliefs and a very, very strong value system. It’s an important part of his life.”
Ryan’s religious beliefs have also been an important part of his politics. He often says his faith has guided his positions on social issues, putting him in line with church doctrine onabortion rights and gay marriage. But the former altar boy also cites church teaching in explaining his positions on government spending, deficit reduction and entitlements — the issues that have catapulted his rapid rise.
Such statements have raised the ire of some Roman Catholics who argue the Wisconsin Republican is twisting church teachings on caring for the poor and shielding the vulnerable to justify cutting the social safety net.
Ryan’s ascent onto the ticket throws open this debate — as well as the larger debate between the liberal and conservative wings of the church. Ryan, a conservative who has developed a close relationship with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a leading spokesman for the conservative church leadership, will face off against another Catholic, Vice President Joe Biden, who supports abortion rights and is aligned with the liberal wing of the church.
There is “definitely a wide philosophical divide between the two,” said Chris Pumpelly, communications director for Catholics United, a lay social justice organization that has been critical of Ryan’s policies. The election “really gives these Catholic swing voters, these cross-pressured swing voters, a lot to think about.”
Read more about what some are thinking about here.