Paul Ryan and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Economist Antony Davies and Catholic theologian Kristina Antolin argue in the Wall Street Journal that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ criticism of Paul Ryan’s budget policies is wrongheaded:

All people have the moral obligation to care for those who are less fortunate. But replacing morality with legality is the first step in replacing church, religion and conscience with government, politics and majority vote. Coercing people to feed the poor simply substitutes moral poverty for material poverty.

The bishops dance with the devil when they invite government to use its coercive power on their behalf, and there’s no clearer example than the Affordable Care Act. They happily joined their moral authority to the government’s legal authority by supporting mandatory health insurance. They should not have been surprised when the government used its reinforced power to require Catholic institutions to pay for insurance plans that cover abortions and birth control.

I made similar points back in April after the USCCB issued a series of letters criticizing cuts to domestic spending programs proposed by House Republicans:

The USCCB’s criticism comes at a time when it’s appropriately fighting the Obama administration’s mandate that Church-affiliated employers must provide health insurance that covers birth control. As a Catholic, it pains me that the bishops apparently do not recognize that a central government that is big and powerful enough to spend billions of other people’s dollars on housing, food, and health care programs, which the bishops support, is inevitably going to shove its tentacles into areas where they’re not wanted. In other words, if you play with fire, there’s a good chance you’re going to get burnt…

The Catholic Church could do a lot more for the poor if its parishioners were able to put more into the collection plate instead of rendering it unto Caesar. Thus, it’s pretty sad that the bishops see this as a “time when the need for assistance from HUD programs is growing” rather than a time for the Church to reassert its traditional role in taking care of those in need—a role that is hindered by the welfare state that the bishops embrace.

That Ryan wants to tinker with the federal welfare state in order to preserve it makes the bishops’ criticism even more absurd.