Boehner and Ryan tout letter from head of US Catholic bishops

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) got some cover Thursday from the head of U.S. Catholic bishops, who said the GOP's 2012 budget had taken into account the church's social teaching.

Boehner and Ryan, both of whom are practicing Catholics, released a letter from Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, after the Speaker had faced criticism from some prominent Catholic scholars for the Republican budget.

Dolan responded to a letter sent April 29 by Ryan by thanking the chairman of the House Budget committee for his "continued attention to the guidance of Catholic social justice in the current delicate budget considerations in Congress."

"It is clear that all of this correspondence reflects recognition of the foundational principles at work," Dolan wrote.

The letter comes after Catholic scholars had written Boehner, challenging him on the GOP's budget priorities, specifically for its cuts to programs to assist the poor and pregnant women, among other perceived violations of Catholic social teaching.

"Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings," they wrote.

To be clear, Dolan's letter didn't endorse the Republican budget, nor did it appear to have written to push back against the Catholic scholars' letter. (Ryan's original correspondence with the New York Archbishop preceded the academics' letter to Boehner.)

But Dolan's letter does give Boehner, Ryan and other Catholic Republicans some political cover by expressing the bishops' satisfaction that the GOP had paid sufficient heed to church teaching when crafting their budget.

Ryan and Boehner both trumpeted the letter.

"I welcome Archbishop Dolan’s letter and am encouraged by the dialogue taking place between House Republicans and the Catholic Bishops regarding our budget, the Path to Prosperity," the Speaker said in a statement. "We have a moral obligation as a nation to change course and adopt policies that reflect the truth about our nation’s fiscal condition and our obligation to future generations, and to offer hope for a better future.  Our duty to serve others compels us to strive for nothing less."

"I thank Archbishop Dolan for his leadership and guidance on how policymakers can best serve the common good of our nation," Ryan said. "I hope Americans of every faith and political background will continue in constructive dialogue to address these great challenges in their economic and moral dimensions."

Still, the (very public) exchange underscores the Catholic bishops' continued role in politics and the controversy sometimes produced as a result.

The bishops, for instance, had pushed hard for language in President Obama's healthcare law last year to ensure that no federal money went to support abortion services, much to the consternation of supporters of abortion rights. The church has also pushed for amnesty for illegal immigrants, and has traditionally been a voice for immigrants' rights.

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