Paul Ryan’s Catholic Financial Principles

I am no economist and I have little patience with politics, but I do understand that my Catholic faith is opposed to both socialism and unrestrained capitalism. It is opposed to both because it is in favor of the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. These principles are easily understood as the proper need for community and government being balanced by being “in favor of the little guy and the homegrown solution”. The Catholic faith is therefore in favor of community, but sees community as founded on personal freedom and personal responsibility. Therefore we distrust both big government and big business.

Catholic social teaching is a largely undiscovered treasure. It provides a sensible way of balance in fiercely partisan politics. A Catholic politician should work according to the principles of this social teaching. To do so is not to bring religion into politics, but to allow his beliefs to influence his decisions. We would expect this to be the case for any politician–that his personal ideals and beliefs should positively motivate his political decisions. In a speech at Georgetown, Ryan has said,

“The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it,” Ryan said. “What I have to say about the social doctrine of the Church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding of the problems of the day.”

This article explains how Paul Ryan’s economic plans echo the Catholic principle of subsidiarity. What interests me most is why the principle of subsidiarity is a Catholic principle. It is Catholic because it is an outgrowth of the Catholic understanding of individual responsibility and freedom. These personal, social and political principles: (freedom and responsibility) are a direct outgrowth of Catholic theology and anthropology. We believe that each human person is created in God’s image and are therefore created with free will. They have power to act. They are able not only to make choices, but to follow through and take action. This personal freedom is one of humanity’s greatest potentialities and strengths. Linked with personal freedom is personal responsibility. If I would have freedom I must exercise that freedom responsibly. I must be aware of the consequences of my decisions and actions. I must weight up the possible rewards and punishments that flow naturally from the exercise of my free will. I must weigh up how my decisions and actions influence other people and society in general.

The principle of freedom and responsibility are woven into the fabric of what it means to be human. Read more.

More on the Ryan pick from Creative Minority Report. Deacon Kandra has a round up on Ryan’s Catholicism here. Deacon Fournier was at the Ryan launch in Virginia and reports here. Kathryn Lopez has an excellent article with good links to Ryan’s background and his work on the budget and how that relates to his Catholic calling. Go here.


  • Carl

    I hope that in the next few months you will be taking these insights directly to the American and Commonweal comboxes, directly confronting their superficial brushoffs of Ryan because of “social justice” concerns.

  • Larry Linn

    Paul Ryan=Wall Street!
    No thank you!

    • AnneG

      Not so much. But Obama =ABORTION, definitely

      • John


    • GM Roper

      Actually, Obama owns Goldman Sachs and Wall Street. I’ll vote for R&R in a heartbeat because my grandchild and the one on the way need a country in GOOD shape, not where it is headed now.

  • Luis

    In addition to the principle of subsidiary, the catholic aprroach also takes on the social dimention of what we call personal sin. Sin does not just account on matters of action but omission as well. No human being is an island, the Church, the collective body of catholic believers, rejects an extreme notion of self- sufficiency. Part of the notion of original sin is social, and to be overcome by compassion, hope and faith. The Church has a preferential option for the poor not because they are not able to take responsabilty for their choices and self-determination but rather because we recognizes that many of the contextual forces that generate this inequality, injustice arise from individual sin. Greed, selfishness and an inability to see the inherent dignity of the human person. The interaction between the individual and the community- society are more danamic and of greater impact than merely pretending that we all are free to self-determine in any way we want. Ask a single mom, a parent with a disabled child or one of the many construction workers who were laid off and struggle to make ends meet. I hope you consider integrating the social aspect of the moral Christian life in your analysis, for that is the essence on the Trinitarian understanding of God.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Did you read the whole article? The second half deals with the principles of solidarity–which is what you are rightly asking about.

  • mm

    Sorry Larry, Wall Street backed the O last time. Ryan is more Main Street. I expect this time for Wall St to hedge their bets, not go whole hog for Obama. Too much channelling of Fauxcahontas Warren by the Dems. Despite the spin, big business is not pro-Republican, too big too fail is their cup of tea. They will go for the man they think is going to win.

  • CN

    Look, social justice under the guise of government’s ability to do anything ends when the society crumbles and there is anarchy in the streets– a likely scenario when Obama play-money runs out. At that point, there will be no healthcare for anyone, no order in the streets, no schools, no welfare, no jobs, no food, no NOTHING. Obviously a civil society must have ways to take care of those in need, and I don’t see the Ryan budgets as eliminating that– on the contrary, they are saving the system by beginning to reign in the nanny-state from more than 70 years of liberal-crony-capitalism.

    Ironically, the Church-as hated as it is by the left-will be the system that survives the coming social collapse and does the job that the libs can’t do… they do it cheaper, more efficiently, and out of authentic charity, which are all things that a government will never be capable of.

  • Reluctant Liberal

    Can someone clarify to me how Ryan (who comes from a wealthy family and has spent almost all of his career in government and is NOT Main Street) reconciles the preferential option for the poor with his love of the anti-Catholic Ayn Rand?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Ryan admits that he was enamored of Ayn Rand as a young man and was enthusiastic about her views on the morality of capitalism and individualism. He does not endorse her anti Catholicism or her views on abortion and altruism.

      If he were better catechized as a young Catholic Ryan would have realized that Rand’s views on the intrinsic justice of private ownership and individual rights and responsibility as opposed to collectivism were already more fully and completely articulated within Catholic social teaching.

      • Reluctant Liberal

        Rand’s views about altruism are pretty well inextricable from her views about altruism. And I think you’re putting more distance between Rand and Ryan than is deserved. From Wikipedia

        “At an Atlas Society meeting celebrating Ayn Rand’s life in 2005, Ryan said that “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand”,[30] and “I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff.”[31] In response to criticism from Catholic leaders, in 2012 Ryan distanced himself from Rand’s Objectivist philosophy.[32][33]“

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          He’s commenting on Rand’s influence on his public service–his views on economics and politics. As my post shows, it is arguable that Rand’s views on the morality of capitalism, the rights of the individual and her rejection of collectivism and statism are congruent with Catholic social teaching. Ryan clearly does not hold Rand’s views on abortion, atheism, objectivism, anti-religion, feminism etc.

          • Reluctant Liberal

            I’ve read Ayn Rand, and it makes my brain hurt to think of the mental gymnastics one would have to do to reconcile Rand’s views about capitalism and the individual with Catholic social teaching.

    • AnneG

      Ryan comes from a working class background. His father died when he was in high school. He actually delivered pizzas, did construction work and other honest labor.

      • Reluctant Liberal

        Delivering pizza’s does not a working class background make. And his “construction work” was as a marketing consultant for a business owned by the Ryan clan (who are wealthy and well known. The construction firm literally built good portions of his home town).

    • mm

      Main street as in philosophy not location. BTW if he is rich as you say it is from main street as his family is not in big business. He does not “love” Ayn Rand and has only said he found parts of her writings inspirational- in its support of individualism vs collectivism and her support of capitalism- he is clear he was never an objectivist. Most of those claiming otherwise are partisan hacks. I would argue that is better than Obama aides who found Mao inspirational (Anita Dunn).

      • Reluctant Liberal

        See my previous posts for a response to most of this. And yes, Mao was bad. What does that have to do with Ryan?

  • Jason

    What council or ex cathedra statement makes.the claim that unrestrained free markets are contrary to social justice? Where does it define the boundary between private ownership of property and government ownership? I am not seeing it.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      John Paul IIs social teaching warns against unrestrained capitalism.

  • Jason

    And what exactly is the Catholic definition of big business. If everyone is the US wanted my goods and services, are you saying that to provide them with that is contrary to Catholic moral dogma?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I’m referring to the type of big business that is bad, not saying all big business is bad. So a business that aims to be big just for being big and does so by stepping on the little guy, controlling product sources, dominating the market, doing back room deals and political schemes to get ever richer and bigger…you know what I’m talking about.

  • Jason

    I am truly being sincere here, but isn’t that an example of teaching that has yet to be called dogma?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Meaning you can reject it if you like?

  • Mark m.

    Please help me. I do not see why you call big business bad.Big government yes, but how can you consign say Chick-fil-a to the same bottom-dwelling regions as the overreaching IRS?

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I meant the kind of big business that is bad, not that all big business is bad.

  • Ginny

    I applaud you for this post. No doubt you will disturb many people, but please do not remain silent on these issues.

  • Jason

    Not reject out of rebellion but if a person has a serious intellectual disagreement with something yet to be formally defined infallibly, and with the possibility of a teaching eventually being redefined more clearly or outright rejected then is that person still bound to accept the teachings in every papal document.? I always considered the strong point of Catholicism is the belief that the Holy Spirit uses the Church to bind our consciences to absolute truth and prevents the binding of our conscience to error through the gift of infallibility expressed in clear manner like councils and ex cathedra.statements.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I think we’re supposed to have a disposition to acceptance of papal teachings, and what we feel we disagree with is the place where we should search our hearts and search the teachings to understand them more fully. But there is room for respectful disagreement on non dogmatic teachings.

    • AnneG

      Jason, there have been some things that I disagreed with when reading a summary. But, when I have read the actual document, I understand the teaching much better and also, where the prudential judgment comes in. I think it was Bishop Vigneron recently said that the Church expects the faithful to exercise Catholic principles in areas of their expertise.
      Fr D, as for big business, doesn’t the same principle apply there as everywhere, that it all depends on how you got a big business and what you do with it, just as in every area of life? For example, if you own the largest farm in the country, take good care of the land by appropriate use, pay workers well, even providing opportunities to advance, have a safe work environment, give a significant portion of income to charity, size is no impediment. If you own a subsistence farm, cheat your neighbors and do not pay your bills and never give to anyone, you re not a good steward, no matter how poor. Right?

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        Of course. I wasn’t saying a business was bad because it was big, but that big businesses are prone to the same weaknesses as big government whereas there can often be more accountability if things are kept local and small–and big businesses can do this by focussing power structures downward.

        • justamom

          I think you mean the businesses that depend on government largesse ($$ & power stolen from taxpayers) are bad. That equals big government and their CRONIES in business. Many businesses grow big out of an ability to serve customers or customers needs but are then bullied into becoming government cronies (Microsoft comes to mind) , other big businesses only grow large by depending (bribing) on governments to subsidize them either with cash, tax credits, no bid contracts or legal restrictions to competition etc. (Halliburton comes to mind). At any rate, these “bad” businesses are only enabled by big governments that have stolen both money and power from the people. Any business that can compete on a level playing field deserves its rewards and is subject to the much more powerful and just forces of the market.

          That being said, Paul Ryan’s voting record proves he is actually one of the biggest big government Federal Government uber alles in DC. He has no problem with the Federal Government controlling driver’s licenses for God’s sake. He has no understanding of the Constitution he has actually sworn to uphold and he certainly has no idea what the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity actually mean and why they are the only just means of community life. Any practicing Catholic who votes according to their conscience cannot possibly find any rationalization for voting for these men.


  • Andy

    Mr. Ryan presents himself as believing in the current vulture capitalism model that is practiced in the US – this system does not align with the teaching of the church. He also ties subsidiarity to small government, again this is a gross over-simplification of the concept. I find it difficult to see where Mr. Ryan is really following church teaching in this area. He like many people use the phrase prudential judgment to explain their actions, yet I see nothing prudential in his judgments.
    Mr. Ryan’s love affair with subsidiarity is weakened because he does not address the concept of solidarity, a much more uncomfortable concept to embrace. He looks, at least to me, as if he views people as fungible items to used in business and that business successes are the only successes of merit. Perhaps if he explained how a town, such as where I live or the county in which I live will support persons who become ill or who are not employed. Mr. Ryan’s ideas sound find in theory, though I do not agree with them as I see to much Ayn Rand reflected i them, but when the rubber his the road, his ideas will hurt people.

    • AnneG

      Andy, I’m a nurse and have worked in a variety of settings including several Catholic hospitals. The one that trumpeted their solidarity with the poor, mostly lacked subsidiarity in their policies and treated the nurses like crap. They always showed overbearing preference for the powerful. They were the “vultures” even though they claimed not to be capitalists. Btw the head of the order to which that hospital belongs is in LCWR.. The for profit places I’ve worked frequently treated employees much better, but not always.
      Sounds like you have a preference for socialist ideals rather than Christian charity, so I disagree with you.

  • Jason

    Thank you for the responses. They are very helpful.

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  • Qualis Rex

    Although I am still most likely not voting for president this next election (for various reasons, but primary among them that I cannot in good conscience vote for ANY pro-abortion candidate) I am very happy to see Ryan as Veep choice. I am fairly certain Obama will take the next election in a landslide, but the bright-side is Ryan will be full-vetted in the process and primed for his presidential candidacy in 2016. A real, believing Catholic in the whitehouse is LONG over-due (I allowed myself to enthusiastic for a minute when Santorum was leading the primaries, but that simply resulted in massive spam emails asking me to support Romney).

    • Nine Footer

      I would like to ask Qualis Rex why he has resigned himself to fearing an Obama landslide in November? In addition, on whom are you affixing the label of Pro – Choice on the republican ticket?