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Catholic groups spar with Paul Ryan over budget

April 24, 2012: 3:28 PM ET

Rep. Paul Ryan is scheduled to deliver a speech at Georgetown University later this week, but he is unlikely to receive a standing ovation from some members of the faculty.

Almost 90 faculty members at the prestigious Jesuit school have signed a letter to Ryan that claims the Republican budget guru is misinterpreting Church doctrine as it relates to the role of government in public life.

"We would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few," the letter says.

The Ryan budget, which has passed the House but stands no chance in the Senate, calls for massive spending cuts over the next decade when compared to the president's plan. The non-security discretionary part of the budget, which contains many social welfare programs, would be hard hit.

Ryan said earlier this month that his Catholic faith shaped his budget proposal, and specifically cited the principle of "subsidiarity" -- which he described as "federalism" or the idea that the "government closest to the people governs best."

The faculty members say Ryan got that one wrong.

"Subsidiarity is not a free pass to dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own device," the letters says. "It calls for solutions to be enacted as close to the level of local communities as possible. But it also demands that higher levels of government provide help -- 'subsidium'-- when communities and local governments face problems beyond their means to address such as economic crises, high unemployment, endemic poverty and hunger."

The letter from Georgetown faculty members follows a series of letters sent to Congress by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, one of which said that "just solutions" to the nation's current budget problems "must require shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and fairly addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs."

The Ryan budget, they said, "fails to meet these moral criteria."

Ryan brushed those criticisms aside, arguing that increased spending has not improved the fortunes of the poor, and that his budget addresses the root causes of poverty.

In an emailed statement, a spokesman for Ryan said Tuesday that the congressman is looking forward to his visit to Georgetown.

"Chairman Ryan remains grateful for Georgetown's invitation to advance a thoughtful dialogue this week on his efforts to avert a looming debt crisis that would hurt the poor the first and the worst. Ryan looks forward to affirming our shared commitment to a preferential option for the poor, which of course does not mean a preferential option for bigger government," the spokesman said.

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Charles Riley
Charles Riley
Reporter, CNNMoney

Charles Riley lives and works in Hong Kong, where he covers markets, economics and other high-impact stories across Asia. He previously worked for CNNMoney in New York and CNN in Washington. He tweets @CRrileyCNN

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