Michael Sean Winters argues that Paul Ryan’s economic views contradict over a century of Catholic social teaching. Winters, a writer for the National Catholic Reporter and the author of God’s Right Hand: How Jerry Falwell Made God a Republic and Baptized the Religious Right, thinks that Ryan and other libertarian Catholics such as Robert Sirico, Michael Novak, and George Weigel have found “creative ways to baptize laissez-faire economics.”
Here is a taste of his recent piece in Religion & Politics:
Weigel, on the other hand, pens a column that is frequently syndicated to a variety of Catholic diocesan newspapers. He is probably best able to provide Ryan with theological cover, not least because Weigel himself has a long track record of dissenting from Catholic social thought. In 2009, Weigel wrote that Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on social justice, Caritas in Veritate, “resembles a duck-billed platypus:” to Weigel’s mind, an unnatural amalgam of the pope’s own views (particularly those on “life issues”) and those of his staff who promote “Justice and Peace.” Weigel went so far as to suggest that one reads the text with a red pen in hand, highlighting those passages Weigel thought were not really from the Pope.
Weigel’s hero, Pope John Paul II, wrote three social encyclicals. None of them cohere with the worldview of Ryan’s Catholic apologists. One has difficulty imagining Ryan or Weigel, or Novak or Sirico, agreeing with John Paul II’s 1981 endorsement, in Laborem Exercens, of “a principle that has always been taught by the Church: the principle of the priority of labor over capital.” Nor is it likely that they would agree with John Paul II’s explicit support for labor unions, developed out of what the Pope called the need for workers “to protect their just rights vis-a-vis the entrepreneurs and the owners of the means of production.”
Here, John Paul II wasn’t setting papal precedent. He instead drew on social teachings going all the way back to Pope Leo’s seminal 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which argued against both socialism and capitalism. In the 1930s, Pope Pius XI wrote of the “poisoned spring” of economic libertarianism in his encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno. Pope John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra, the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes, and Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio, all brought the issues of workers’ rights up to date for a twentieth-century economy. Nowhere in these encyclicals—not even in a footnote—will you find any suggestion that the Catholic Church supports the kind of Ayn Rand-inspired libertarianism espoused by Ryan and Sirico, and winked at by Novak and Weigel.