This week in OSV Newsweekly we are publishing the first of two opinion pieces on the current budget debate that has transfixed both political parties and threatens to bring the U.S. government to a standstill. The first piece is written by Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican architect of a budget proposal that would significantly alter Medicare and other federal programs while dramatically cutting government expenditures. Next week, there will be a column by Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America. 

Neither column will likely change the minds of those already convinced about the way forward in addressing the prolonged economic slowdown, the $14 trillion national debt and the longer-term challenges facing our economy and social services safety net. 

But the value of having dueling columns in a Catholic publication is to underscore two points: 

First, the Church has a right and a duty to teach on the principles that impact decisions made by our politicians. As New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops, recently wrote in a letter to Ryan, “budgets are moral statements.” Although the bishops “are very conscious that we are pastors, never politicians,” he said, the Church has an interest in how the various budget battles are resolved: “A singularly significant part of our duty as pastors is to insist that the cries of the poor are heard and that the much-needed reform leading to financial discipline that is recognized by all never adds further burdens upon those who are poor and most vulnerable, nor distracts us from our country’s historic consideration of the needs of the world’s suffering people.” 

Liberal Catholics sometimes say that the Church has no business in the bedroom, and conservative Catholics sometimes say that the Church has no business in the boardroom, but both are wrong. Where moral decisions are being made, the Church does have a right to make its voice heard on behalf of those who have no voice as well as on behalf of the values that we believe must guide us as moral beings. 

Second, however, is that once the underlying principles are established and accepted, many of these economic debates are matters of prudential judgment. That does not mean that any opinion is equally valid. An Ayn Randian philosophy of calculated selfishness and godlessness is not simply one more acceptable opinion, for example, any more than a philosophy of atheistic communism would be. By declaring that a topic is a matter of prudential judgment means that we, as Catholics, are bound to inform ourselves about what the Church teaches regarding the rights of poor and the rights of property, to inform ourselves about the Church’s social teachings, and then to evaluate carefully the various political proposals being put forth so as to make a considered judgment about their merits. 

And it is likely that thoughtful Catholics will disagree on what they believe will address the current economic crisis. 

While these disagreements may not be resolvable, politics is the art of compromise, and we trust that compromises will be found to lead the country out of the current partisan standoff. So much is at stake that to fail to do so would be to endanger millions. But as we struggle to find a way to lower our debt and bring greater responsibility to our national finances, it is essential that there be a sense that all are being asked to make sacrifices proportionate to their resources and ability. This is not only a matter of justice, but also essential to the well-being of our democracy. The poisons of class resentment and bullying will be the result if it is believed that powerful interests are protecting themselves at the expense of the many. 

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.