Ryan as VP pick continues election year focus on Catholicism
Paul Ryan is better known for his outspoken fiscal conservatism than for leading on conservative Catholic social causes.
August 11th, 2012
09:20 AM ET

Ryan as VP pick continues election year focus on Catholicism

By Dan Gilgoff and Dan Merica

Washington (CNN) – Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate promises to cast a spotlight on American Catholicism in an election year when the tradition has already been a major focus.

Ryan, a Catholic who chairs the House Budget Committee, is better known for his outspoken fiscal conservatism than for leading on conservative Catholic social causes like opposing abortion and gay marriage.

But Romney called attention to Ryan's religion Saturday in introducing him as his running mate: "A faithful Catholic, Paul believes in the worth and dignity of every human life," Romney said.

And socially conservative groups were quick to praise Ryan's selection, with the president of National Right to Life saying that "Ryan has a deep, abiding respect for all human life, including unborn children and their mothers, the disabled and the elderly."

Ryan’s advocacy for cutting taxes and trimming the deficit — he is the architect of the GOP’s proposed federal budget — married with his willingness to talk about fiscal belt-tightening in moral terms and his low-key social conservatism speak to a political moment in which the economic concerns of the Tea Party and the social focus of the Christian right have merged into a relatively cohesive anti-Obama movement.

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Ryan’s presence on the ticket also could increase Romney’s appeal among the millions of middle-of-the-road Catholic voters who populate key swing states, like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Catholics are considered the quintessential swing vote, and no presidential candidate has won the White House without winning Catholics since at least the early 1990s.

With Romney, a Mormon, selecting a Catholic, Obama is the only Protestant in the 2012 presidential race (Vice President Joe Biden is also Catholic).

"As a conservative Catholic, Ryan is likely to appeal to a number of Catholics in the Midwest,” said John Green, a professor of religion and politics at the University of Akron in Ohio. “Catholics who are concerned about religious liberty, he is certainly a positive there."

The Catholic Church has helped frame this year’s election by strenuously opposing a rule in President Obama’s health care law that requires insurance companies to provide free contraception coverage to nearly all American employees, including those at Catholic colleges and hospitals. The Democrats have said that Romney’s and the GOP’s support for the Church’s position constitutes a “war on women,” while Romney and his party say Obama’s rule represents a “war on religion.”

In an interview with CNN, former GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich, who is Catholic, said that Ryan would shore up support in a Catholic community that feels it is “under siege.”

Romney released an ad Thursday repeating the war on religion charge. Next week, Sandra Fluke — a Georgetown University law student who was thrust into the national spotlight after radio show host Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” for her role in supporting Obama’s contraception rule — will introduce the president at a stop in Denver.

Ryan’s own Catholicism became a major issue this year, with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops criticizing his proposed federal budget for what the bishops said would be its adverse impact on the poor.

The bishops cautioned against overreaching budget cuts that endanger “poor and vulnerable people.” The bishops’ message called on “Congress and the administration to protect essential help for poor families and vulnerable children and to put the poor first in budget priorities.”

This split between politically conservative and liberal Catholics has existed for decades in the Catholic Church. But with Ryan running for vice president, some experts expect this divide to be sharpened.

"What Ryan will highlight is a division within the Catholic community,” Green said. “More politically liberal Catholics are very critical of the Republican approach and the Ryan budget, but Ryan has taken them head on.”

In an April speech at Georgetown, a Catholic school, Ryan defended his budget in religious terms.

“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.”

Ryan’s $3.53 trillion budget doubles down on past proposals to overhaul Medicare and other government programs that are seen as politically sensitive. While the budget has little chance to become law, it draws a distinct contrast with Democratic views on spending.

That speech, along with other statements that put his budget into religious terms, led liberal Catholic groups to openly protest Ryan’s budget.

In particular, NETWORK, a group founded by 47 Catholic nuns that speaks out on social justice issues, went on a bus tour around the country to protest the Ryan budget.

In an interview with CNN, Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK, said Ryan has co-opted sacred Catholic teachings and twisted their meanings.

This line of attack will intensify in the coming months because of Ryan’s nomination, says Deal Hudson, a religion and politics expert who ran President George. W. Bush’s Catholic outreach in 2000 and 2004.

“I think the Catholic left will make this the drumbeat about Congressman Ryan,” Hudson said. “That is why it is so important for the campaign to effectively get out in front of this argument.”

According to Hudson, it is possible to defend the Ryan budget from Catholic attacks, it will just take a campaign that “realizes this is what they face."


Filed under: 2012 Election • Catholic Church • Politics

soundoff (1,690 Responses)
  1. Marianne

    Well I am a practicing Catholic and I AM NOT VOTING FOR Romney/Ryan. Any person who calls themselves a "Catholic" cannot and will not hurt people in a budget proposal that cuts help to the poor, help to the sick, help to the disabled. That man is not a "catholic". He is just using the name to get votes. Catholics are not as stupid as he and Romney think they are, they are in for a big surprise. Also, just because someone is "catholic" does not mean the rest of the catholics will vote for him. Where this catholic voting block idea came from, I don't know. If anything, it turns us off.

    August 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • billdeacons

      I'm a Cathloic too. That aside, let me ask you a question. With 15 trillion dollars in debt, essentially zero growth in the economy, and a downgraded credit rating, exactly where do you think the money will come from to pay for all these fine ideas?

      August 14, 2012 at 12:40 am |
    • Chick-a-dee

      @ billdeacons: Well...we could start by bringing our troops home and shutting off the faucet that keeps pouring money down the military drain. We might bring tax rates back to the way they were during the Eisenhower administration...that was a fairly good economic time for the U.S. How about bring back the WPA, fix our aging roads, bridges, electrical grid and other infrastructure while employing people who can then pump money back into the economy with discresionary
      spending? How about closing the checkbook to companies like Exxon who surely don't need our tax dollars to maintain their multi-billion dollar profit margins?

      Would you like me to continue?

      August 14, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  2. SAC

    The Cardinals have declared his budget IMMORAL. He is a repudiation of the compassion and empathy of tthe true teachings of Christianlity.

    His Catholic stance is a tool to win votes, nothing more.

    August 13, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
  3. Ron in SC

    I'm Catholic and not voting the R/R! No real practicing Catholic could support what the GOP and Ryan are suggesting. It goes against everything Catholics believe. Feed the poor, clothe the naked, love thy neighbor, following Christ's example etc. If Jesus went to the GOP convention it would be like when he went to the temple and turned over the tables of the money lenders and tax collectors. R and R want to do everything that is directly opposed to what is preached by Jesus!

    August 13, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  4. tony

    Does anyone remember that there was a Russia just before the Soviet revolution that was just like the Romney Ryan plan?

    August 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Chick-a-dee


      August 14, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  5. lathebiosas

    What does reiligious fantasy have to do with the very real job of running this country? Let's take off our post critical hats and strap on our critical helmets and get down to real business. You know what you get when you mix government and religion? Places like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan. Are those the models we're aiming for? If so why the heck have we been spending billions trying to change them?

    August 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  6. Jared

    I'm a practising Roman Catholic and there is no way I'd vote for Romney/Ryan. I actually believe that we have an obligation to help the least fortunate among us because I don't believe that they're all a bunch of lazy good-for-nothings. The right in this country want to lump every poor person together and don't make any concessions that sometimes people are poor for a reason that is out of their control. This heartless, anti-Christian agenda put forward by the extreme right in this country is embarrassing. I believe that everyone has a responsibility to make an effort to better themselves, but the Ryan/Romney plan is all about making the rich richer...a common theme with the GOP in the last decade and a half. Shameless.

    August 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • lathebiosas

      Jared, they only talk Christianity, they don't actually live it. The real Christ would vote democratic.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      There is a HUGE difference between Xtians, and Christians.
      I don't meet very many Christians, but I see loud, abrasive, disrespectful and ignorant Xtians EVERY DAY.
      I would love to be a fly on the wall as Xtians meet St. Peter, and realize they have NOT lived in a Christ-like manner.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • billdeacons

      My only question to everyone who wants to keep handing out the government checks is "Where will the money come from?"

      I don't think you people understand the financial condition this country is in.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  7. Steven Colo

    In 1960, JFK was considered too loony because he was a Catholic. With Mitt being Mormon, Ryan's Catholicism is considered mainstream. How times change.

    August 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  8. janelasdedeus

    Joe Biden is no more a believer in Catholicism than any of the Kennedys or Nancy Pelosi.

    August 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Sam

      Since when did somebody put you in charge of deciding someone's religious sincerity? Brainless twit.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  9. ImIrish

    This Catholic and her husband, as well as our many siblings, nieces and nephews, WILL be voting for the Romney/Ryan ticket, but it has nothing to do with Ryan being Catholic.

    It is about our government living within its means, revamping social programs because of the WIDESPREAD abuse, and getting people back to work.

    August 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • tony

      If only that scenario were true! But before GW, and two unbugeted wars that made a fortune for Cheny, , his obscene tax cuts for his rich friends, the Wall Street rip-off, a American family could live within their means, and even afford to send kids to college.

      But now they can't. Which has nothing to do with any government hand-outs.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Jared

      So when that revamping ends up screwing the people who aren't abusing the system, that's fine. We may be both be Catholic, but have very different ideas of what that is. I'd rather live in a country where people get the help they need, even if a few freeloaders take advantage, than cut off help to everyone so that the rich can get new and bigger tax breaks. The Ryan/Romney model is already in place...in countries like Brazil, Somalia, etc. If that's the direction we want to go in, I don't want any part of it.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • SAC

      Well if that is true then you would hold the Republican congress responsible for their obstructionism which has been the true source of stagnation of the economy. Please ask yourself why you are willing to reward the behavior that has held this country hostage since Obama took on the catstrophe that was of the previous adminstrations making. Really. Because if you are of the working middle class, the money will be coming out of your pocket. This is not a theory.The tax breaks for the rich proposed by Romney will have to paid for by a reduction in yours , your family's and your friends.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  10. tony

    Why do a good Catholic and a good Mormon want to arrange the Economy so that so many of their followers become far too rich to enter Heaven?

    August 13, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • lathebiosas

      Yes, that needles eye is looking very small for those big camels aren't they?

      August 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
  11. Kris

    I don't care if he's Lutheran or practices Taoism, bottom line is this couldn't be a worse pick for Romney. Ryan, although strong on economic issues, some I happen to agree with, has zero foreign policy experience. Why would Romney not pick Rice as his VP? At least she has foreign experience under her belt which is a heck of a lot more than Romney and Ryan both do combined. But I think the message is clear on this ticket, "Balance the budget at all costs".

    August 13, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
    • PB

      Rice probably turned it down. Even though she is a Bush hugger, she doesn't want to tie herself to that anchor.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Greg Morgan

      Romney didn't pick Rice because she was too smart to say yes when he asked.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Richard

      Obama had zero foreign policy experience, and he chose Biden in an apparent attempt to ease concerns. But how has Biden helped with foreign policy?

      August 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Kris

      @ Richard. Biden was picked for foreign experience that is true, and has done a lousy job at it from what I've seen, but I think he was chosen more as a VP for his ties with the Unions.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  12. Dakota2000

    American Catholics believe in compassion of the poor. That is the bedrock of American Catholicism. Ryan is staunchly opposed to compassion for the poor and is therefore no Catholic.

    August 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • billdeacons

      He is opposed to government funded support of the poor, possibly. The Catholic church teaches that compassion for the suffering and poor is an individual mission, not a governmental one.

      August 14, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  13. PB

    I appreciate a man of faith living his beliefs. However a man in power, a man who could potentially be President openly stating that he intends to predicate law based on 'his' understanding of his faith...no. Religion can ever and will never be the governing factor in this country. Everyone was worried that Romney would allow the LDS Church to dictate his actions as President. Yet here is Ryan openly announcing that this is exactly what he intends to do. I am not Catholic. I do not recognize their leadership. I will not practice Catholosism by choice or by law. I have my own faith thank you very much.

    August 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • FLIndpendent

      Isn't it ironic how Ryan has openly stated that he will govern by his beliefs and his supporters claim President Obama is the one "destroying America" because he's "Muslim". President Obama has kept religion out of his politics but Romney/Ryan will force their beliefs on all of us as the extreme Repub governors are already with women's choices.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  14. tony

    How can a Catholic and a Mormon fight together for two different religious agendas??? One or the other has got to be traitor to his faith.

    August 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  15. spentecost

    If the Catholic Church is under siege from anyone it is their own hierarchy and their criminal conspiracy to protect themselves. Hopefully one day they will return their focus to their charge, witnessing. The Christ they witness for does not turn his back on those unfortunate souls and give gold to the rich instead of helping the poor. Talk is cheap from the lil GOPers about faith and works. Their actions speak loudly about their faith or lack thereof.

    August 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  16. Keel Hauler

    Y'all are gonna "Roe" yourselves right over the waterfall..

    August 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  17. bspurloc

    get religion out of politics and out of Modern Mans life....
    Only a LUNATIC has the Knowledge man attained in the last 50 years alone of the Universe and STILL grasps fairie tales written 2000 years ago to control man by man

    August 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  18. marie

    BTW, Ask Mitt when god comes to visit from planet Kolob. Yes, it's true Mormons believe in space travel, but what religion is not a little nuts?

    August 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  19. Paul

    Hmmm... all this focus on Ryan being Catholic, isn't Joe Biden Catholic as well? http://lh4.ggpht.com/_DawJTCHuL3c/S33HMiu4F3I/AAAAAAAADBI/eXo8L7vNIQE/image6216723x_thumb%5B9%5D.jpg

    August 13, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • Mike

      Biden is a nominal Catholic – meaning he's one if the politics call for him to be one. Otherwise, he's pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, etc... a Catholic in the Kenendy mode.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Sam

      And Ryan is also a nominal Catholic, parroting the Vatican's "pro-life", anti-contraception agenda while at the same time conveniently ignoring the social justice practiced and preached by Jesus Christ. I'll take Joe Biden's "nominal" Catholicism over Ryan's phony Catholicism any day of the week.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  20. Asturiano

    This Catholic is NOT voting for the Romney-Ryan ticket

    August 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • HollywoodPR

      Well, this Catholic is.

      August 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Sam

      And THIS Catholic and his Catholic wife are not. Guess that cancels you out HollywoodPR.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • PB

      I'm not Catholic, I'm a Mormon. I'm not voting for Romney/Ryan. I believe in helping our fellow man. If that slows the amount of billions falling into corporate coffers...ask me if I care.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Leo

      I am Catholic and my wife is we were voting for Romney befor and will now as well

      August 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • DJK

      This Catholic IS voting for Romney/Ryan. I believe in helping our fellow man, not in taking money away from people, putting in a bureaucratic mess that will help NO ONE so that I can feel good about myself.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Sam

      DJK, if you believed in helping out your fellow man you wouldn't be voting tor a phony who wants to privatize Medicare so that he can feel good about himself.

      August 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.