On Saturday, August 11, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, named Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ryan, a seven-term congressman from Wisconsin, is, like Joe Biden (the current Vice President of the United States) a lifelong Catholic, but beyond their religious affiliation the two have little in common. Biden began his career as a pro-life politician and even criticized Roe v. Wade as "wrongly decided" (see Where Do Barack Obama and Joe Biden Stand on Abortion?), but he very quickly fell in line with the post-Roe orthodoxy in the Democratic Party. His first vote on abortion in the U.S. Senate in 1973 was in favor of keeping it legal. In opposition to the Catholic Church's teaching, Biden has come out in recent months in favor of gay "marriage."
Ryan, on the other hand, has consistently adopted pro-life positions; the National Right to Life Committee and NARAL Pro-Choice America agree that his voting record is 100-percent pro-life. Ryan has spoken out against efforts to redefine marriage and favors a Federal Marriage Amendment to enshrine the traditional definition of marriage in the U.S. Constitution.
In the days since Romney chose Ryan, however, several Catholic bishops have expressed concern over Ryan's views on social justice and economic matters. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan has advocated significant cuts in federal spending, many of them regarding federal social programs.
Ryan, however, has at least one Catholic bishop who is willing to vouch for his Catholic bona fides: Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, in which Ryan resides.
In his August 16, 2012, column in the Catholic Herald, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Madison, Bishop Morlino defends Ryan against charges that his political proposals as chairman of the House Budget Committee fall outside of Catholic social teaching. Stressing the role of a well-formed conscience in political action, Bishop Morlino declares that, in his opinion, "Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with [its] principles." Aware of remarks that have been made by others to the contrary, Bishop Morlino adds that "I mention this matter in obedience to Church Law regarding one’s right to a good reputation."
Referring specifically to such issues as "How best to care for the poor" and "how best to create jobs at a time when so many are suffering from the ravages of unemployment," Bishop Morlino writes:
As one looks at issues such as the two mentioned above and seeks to apply the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, Catholics and others of good will can arrive at different conclusions. These are conclusions about the best means to promote the preferential option for the poor, or the best means to reach a lower percentage of unemployment throughout our country. No one is contesting here anyone’s right to the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. Nor is anyone contesting someone’s right to work and so provide for self and family. However there can be difference according to how best to follow the principles which the Church offers.
This is very different, Bishop Morlino stresses, from situations such as abortion, in which "intrinsic evil" is involved:
In these most fundamental matters, a well-formed Catholic conscience, or the well-formed conscience of a person of good will, simply follows the conclusions demanded by the ecology of human nature and the reasoning process. A Catholic conscience can never take exception to the prohibition of actions which are intrinsically evil. Nor may a conscience well-formed by reason or the Catholic faith ever choose to vote for someone who clearly, consistently, persistently promotes that which is intrinsically evil.
When intrinsic evil is not involved—such as in discussions of budgetary matters—"it is not up to me or any bishop or priest to approve of Congressman Ryan’s specific budget prescription to address the best means we spoke of." Why? Because
[m]aking decisions as to the best political strategies, the best policy means, to achieve a goal, is the mission of lay people, not bishops or priests. As Pope Benedict himself has said, a just society and a just state is the achievement of politics, not the Church. And therefore Catholic laymen and women who are familiar with the principles dictated by human reason and the ecology of human nature, or non-Catholics who are also bound by these same principles, are in a position to arrive at differing conclusions as to what the best means are for the implementation of these principles . . .
It is legitimate for any Catholic layman to dispute Congressman Ryan's understanding of how the principles of Catholic social teaching should be applied when constructing the federal budget. But those who claim that such disputes justify voting for a President and Vice President who openly advocate such intrinsic evils as abortion are, at best, misguided and, at worst, deliberately placing their political allegiances above the Church's moral teaching. (See "The Practical Effects of the Seamless Garment" for a discussion of where such misguided political action had led.)
No Catholic is the United States is required to vote for a Romney-Ryan ticket simply because the presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee is a Catholic, any more than he would have been required to vote for the Obama-Biden ticket because Joe Biden is a professed Catholic. But any attempt to equate Biden and Ryan is disingenuous at best, because, to put it in Bishop Morlino's terms, Joe Biden openly advocates policies that support intrinsic evils while Paul Ryan does not.
Or, to put it bluntly: If you disagree with Paul Ryan's understanding and application of Catholic social teaching, don't vote for Romney-Ryan. But, as Bishop Morlino makes clear, no Catholic in good conscience can use a disagreement over political strategy as an excuse to vote for those, such as Obama-Biden, who "clearly, consistently, persistently" advocate policies that are intrinsically evil.