Georgetown academics challenge Paul Ryan ahead of lecture

More than 80 Georgetown University faculty members and administrators signed a letter to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday, challenging his use of Catholic teaching in defending his budget proposal.

Ryan is scheduled to speak at Georgetown on Thursday as part of the Catholic school’s Whittington Lecture series.

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The letter cites correspondence, first obtained by The Hill, sent by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the House and Senate criticizing the House-passed budget for failing to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.”

“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 Georgetown letter read in part.

“As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely noted in several letters to Congress — ‘a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.’ Catholic bishops recently wrote that ‘the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.’”

The faculty says it does not object to Ryan’s right to speak at the lecture, but rather to his use of Catholic teaching to defend his budget. Ryan spokesman Kevin Seifert responded to the letter in an email to The Hill.

“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,” he said. “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."

Political leaders on both sides of the aisle have felt the scorn of the U.S. bishops. President Obama’s healthcare law came under attack because of rules requiring employers to provide birth control as part of their health coverage. While Obama changed the law to exclude religious organizations, the bishops said he did not go far enough and have called for two weeks of protests in June and July.

The Georgetown letter to Ryan also criticized cuts in his budget to food stamps and other assistance programs for the poor, and claimed that Ryan “profoundly” misreads the church doctrine of “subsidiarity.” The authors of the letter included a copy of the Vatican's Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, commissioned by John Paul II, to “help deepen your understanding of Catholic social teaching.”

“In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the letter continues. “Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.”

Ryan has cited Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged and an extreme Libertarian philosophy, as an influence of his.

This is not the first time Georgetown University has been the center of controversy this election year.

In March, President Obama called Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke after she had been the subject of “inappropriate personal attacks” when conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh referred to her as a “slut” and a “prostitute” because of her testimony about the healthcare law’s birth-control mandate.