Paul Ryan’s former priest: ‘Your kids may starve to death’ because of budget cuts

Steven Nelson Associate Editor
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Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s former parish priest says that the Republican vice presidential candidate’s budget plans are not in line with Catholic teachings.

In an interview published Wednesday by the Center for Media and Democracy, Fr. Stephen Umhoefer said he had a “very friendly pastor-parishioner relationship” with Ryan.

Umhoefer said Ryan left his Janesville-based church, which he has led since 2002, a few years ago.

“Paul would say that the only way to save the country from a coming [fiscal] disaster is ‘follow my plan,'” said Umhoefer, but “you can’t tell somebody that in ten years your economic situation is going to be just wonderful because meanwhile your kids may starve to death.”

In Ryan’s hometown, Umhoefer said, “The welfare check runs out and people are suffering now in ways that they haven’t before.”

“If he is following his conscience, he is doing the morally correct thing,” said Ryan’s former priest. “But he shouldn’t wrap himself in Catholic teaching because he is not using that [teaching] in what I would say is a balanced way.”

Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget proposal would mandate steep spending cuts and would restructure Medicare and Medicaid.

In a Thursday column, Madison’s Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino said, “you can be assured that no priest who promotes a partisan agenda is acting in union with me or with the Universal Church.”

Morlino wrote that he is “proud” of Ryan and that the GOP presidential running mate “is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles.”

Ryan defended his budget proposal in April, telling the Christian Broadcast Network, “[T]he preferential option for the poor, which is one of the primary tenets of Catholic social teaching, means don’t keep people poor, don’t make people dependent on government so that they stay stuck in their station in life.“

Umhoefer, however, said, “What I wish for Paul — he is so smart and so articulate and has made this whole budget, which he can defend on his own view … of how the economy and politics work. I wish he wouldn’t bring in the Catholic church. He doesn’t need to if his economic and political argument are strong, and I’m sure he believes that they are.”

Religious leaders have attracted press coverage in past presidential campaigns, most notably after taped sermons delivered by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Barack Obama’s Chicago pastor, surfaced during the 2008 campaign.

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