Will Chairman Ryan Go To Hell? Bishop Blaire May Think So

We interrupt the presidential campaign to raise this pressing question. Back in 1969, Bill Buckley sent my parents a hilarious book—not his, but his sister’s. Aloïse Buckley Heath was mother of ten rambunctious and inquisitive children, one of whom asked her, some 48 Octobers ago, if Tommy Major’s mother, who lived next door, would go to Hell because she planned to vote for Lyndon Johnson.

The outcome of that saga will have to wait—but a similar rumination comes to mind today. The Chairman of the House Budget Committee, vice-presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), insists that he respects and embraces Catholic social teaching when drafting legislation. Yet, for over a year, Mr. Ryan’s budget proposal has been roundly condemned by a prominent successor to the Apostles. Since the “Ryan Budget” slows the rate of growth in taxpayer-funded social programs, Rep. Ryan has been repeatedly attacked by Bishop Steven Blaire of Stockton, California, brandishing the widely-respected brand name of the USCCB, where he chairs a committee. Bishop Blaire calls Mr. Ryan’s budget cuts (sic) “unjust and wrong” and asserts that they fail to meet “moral criteria.” His condemnation has been gleefully trumpeted by the religious left, with Georgetown University faculty members, Maureen Dowd, and Al Sharpton in the lead.

Recently, several bishops have come to the defense of Mr. Ryan—not endorsing his budget, but affirming his right as a layman to exercise the laity’s specific “charism of political leadership and decision,” as Timothy Cardinal Dolan, citing Lumen Gentium, wrote to the congressman in May 2011. Since then, Catholics both lay and clerical have fruitfully unearthed and explored the distinction between issues involving moral absolutes which bind the informed Catholic conscience, on the one hand, and the freedom of the faithful to differ on approaches to prudential issues, on the other. For Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Rep. Ryan’s ordinary, the first category addresses “intrinsic evils,” while the second comprises issues “where intrinsic evil is not involved. How best to care for the poor,” Bishop Morlino continues, “is probably the finest current example of this.”

In recent months, this vibrant discussion has focused on the rights of the laity. But what about those of the hierarchy? Our shepherds often criticize particular instances of the laity’s right to prudential judgment, often insisting that their political opinions are magisterial because they are episcopal. But that door swings both ways. Can the layman disagree with his bishop’s prudential judgments, on the one hand, while honoring the bishop’s binding authority—indeed, his duty—to teach the authentic truths of the Magisterium, on the other? Should he? A brief consideration of that distinction, focusing on some prudential episcopal decisions, might be timely.

Since Bishop Blaire’s salvos began in early 2011, I have repeatedly called and written him to ask if Catholics could disagree with his prudential political views. For instance, on August 31, 2011, he wrote to members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction on Capitol Hill a letter containing this passage:

However, it would be wrong to balance future budgets by hurting those who already hurt the most by cutting programs such as foreign aid, affordable housing programs, child nutrition, or health care.

Three weeks later I wrote Bishop Blaire, asking:

Does your public advocacy of this specific legislation constitute a teaching of the “authentic magisterium of their bishops,” like Humanae Vitae, to which the “faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind?” (Canon 753; Lumen Gentium 25).  Is a Catholic of good will bound by Canon Law “to adhere with religious submission of mind” to your prudential political views?

Bishop Blaire never responded. After my repeated follow-ups, his spokeswoman finally told me that the bishop was “swamped,” and could not answer my simple question.

Bishop Blaire has good reason to be swamped. The city of Stockton, the seat of his diocese, has declared bankruptcy, the largest U.S. jurisdiction to do so. His sincerity and his concern for the plight of the poor—he knows them well—cannot be doubted, pace his attacks on Rep. Ryan’s budget. But like every other bishop—and like Rep. Ryan—Bishop Blaire makes prudential decisions all the time in the official conduct of his office. And laymen have long acknowledged our bishops’ right to do so, even when they disagree.

Some of those decisions are telling. Bishop Blaire was quick to condemn Rep. Ryan, two time zones away, but he has been strangely silent about two of Ryan’s congressional colleagues, a pair of adamantly pro-abortion Catholics who represent the Stockton diocese in Congress. The offices of these officials, Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA-11) and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-CA-18), could not refer me to any occasion on which Bishop Blaire had publicly condemned their pro-abortion position as “unjust,” “wrong,” or “immoral.” And neither could Bishop Blaire’s spokeswoman. On June 12, 2011, Bishop Blaire did advise me through his spokeswoman that “I have spoken several times with each of them [Reps. McNerney and Cardoza] about the Church’s teaching.” But I can find no record of a single public admonition by the bishop, let alone any of the magnitude of those leveled at Rep. Ryan.

Of course, Bishop Blaire isn’t bound to make such a public statement. He has exercised his prudential judgment in (apparently) not doing so.

Bishop Blaire made another critical prudential decision regarding a case of abuse alleged to have occurred under Bishop (now Cardinal) Roger Mahony when he was bishop of Stockton. On April 20, 2012, just before the lawsuit against the diocese was to go to trial, Bishop Blaire settled the case, even though he was convinced that the accused priest was innocent. “The Diocese agreed to pay the plaintiff and his attorneys $3.75 million,” his statement read, “with $2 million of this amount being paid by the Diocese’s insurance carriers. In response, the plaintiff will dismiss his lawsuit and seek no further action against the Diocese or Fr. Kelly.”

Some might consider a $3.75 million payout to a single plaintiff to be a staggering sum. It is certainly far higher, per capita, than the hundreds of settlements paid by Cardinal Mahony when he was Archbishop of Los Angeles. But the Diocese of Stockton had already been plagued by successful abuse verdicts; moreover, the plaintiff’s attorney, John Manly, had subpoenaed Cardinal Mahony to appear. Had the case proceeded to trial, Cardinal Mahony would have been required to testify under oath about the abuse scandals in public court for the first time since they erupted ten years ago. Bishop Blaire’s settlement had the (perhaps unintended) consequence of obviating the necessity of Cardinal Mahony’s testimony at trial—and in any case Cardinal Mahony quietly left the state for Rome. (Mr. Manly did not return calls requesting comment).

Clearly, this case literally “swamped” Bishop Blaire with a raft of prudential decisions. His statement observed that the case had “occupied a great deal of time and focus,” and the settlement did indeed put the case behind him. Many, in his diocese and beyond, disagreed with the settlement and its terms, but no one alleged that Bishop Blaire lacked the prudential authority to agree to it.

Even his fellow bishops have publicly aired their prudential differences with Bishop Blaire. Before the bishops’ meeting last June, Bishop Blaire was celebrated by several liberal (I’m sorry, progressive) Catholics for his criticism of the lawsuits against the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. On May 22, he told America Magazine that “he worried that ‘some groups very far to the right’ are trying to use the conflict as ‘an anti-Obama campaign.’” Two days later, Donald Cardinal Wuerl and Archbishop William Lori eloquently dismissed that allegation on EWTN, politely referring to Bishop Blaire merely as “the bishop that you mention” as they calmly offered him some firm fraternal correction.

At their June meeting several bishops again disagreed—prudentially, of course—with Bishop Blaire. According to Catholic World News, “Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing criticized [Bishop Blaire’s] committee’s opposition to the budget plan put forward by Congressman Paul Ryan. ‘There have been some concerns raised by lay Catholics, especially some Catholic economists, about what was perceived as a partisan action against Congressman Ryan and the budget he had proposed,’ Bishop Boyea said. ‘We need to be articulate only in principles, and let the laity make these applications … It was perceived as partisan, and thus didn’t really further dialogue in our deeply divided country.’” And in August, Bishop Morlino wrote rather emphatically that “You can be assured that no priest who promotes a partisan agenda is acting in union with me or with the Universal Church.”

All of these decisions and differences reside in the prudential realm, of course. Even bishops who disagree with Bishop Blaire’s views do not condemn them as “unjust and wrong.” Like laymen, bishops are not guaranteed the gift of perfect judgment when they are not teaching fundamental truths regarding faith and morals. Like Congressman Ryan, Bishop Blaire has undoubtedly done the best he can to reach prudential decisions informed by the social teaching of the Church. I raise the particulars cited above, in charity and in truth, only to indicate the delicate nature of prudential judgment, and to affirm the ability of good men and women, bishops and laity alike, to disagree on questions that do not involve intrinsic evils.

Some might ask, what’s the big deal? Laymen disagree prudentially with their bishops all the time. Which parishes should be closed? Which schools should be consolidated? To which groups should the Campaign For Human Development grants go? Should the Campaign For Human Development exist at all? And why did the pope transfer our beloved bishop? And why didn’t he fire that bad one? Even popes have to make prudential decisions. Good Catholics can disagree, but none can insist that the Successor of Peter doesn’t have the authority to make them. And the same goes for the Successors of the Apostles.

In these troubled times, Catholics of good will in the public square will continue to make tough decisions regarding political issues that do not involve intrinsic evils. The laity respects the right of our shepherds to use their best judgment when addressing such questions. Let us pray that our shepherds will continue to respect the laity’s right to do so as well.

So will Mrs. Major go to Hell? Will Congressman Ryan? Well, those aren’t prudential questions. But they will indeed be answered—not by us, but in good time … actually, beyond it. Adveniat regnum tuum.

Christopher Manion


Christopher Manion served as a staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for many years. He has taught in the departments of politics, religion, and international relations at Boston University, the Catholic University of America, and Christendom College, and is the director of the Campaign for Humanae Vitae™, a project of the Bellarmine Forum Foundation. He is a Knight of Malta.

  • Barbara

    Bishop Blaire and many of the prominent Catholics in California are socialist. They deem any decrease in tax payer funding to be a sin. They equate not giving hard earned money to someone who has less as selfish and unchristian. They don’t ‘feel’ it is right that you should have more than someone else just because you worked harder or studied more. You are supposed to give away all extras. You are not supposed to have a saving account for future needs.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    #1 “The Diocese agreed to pay the plaintiff and his attorneys $3.75 million,” his statement read, “with $2 million of this amount being paid by the Diocese’s insurance carriers.
    My question to Bishop Blaire is: Where did the other $1.75 million come from? Did you pay it from your own personal account or did it come from the laity of the diocese? You exercized a prudential judgement in spending that money for litigation, money that could have been used instead to help the poor. Was that a good judgement on your part?
    #2 To Bishop Blaire and others like him in the USCCB: There are many in the Church (including many at the Vatican) who now are fully aware of what has been ‘going down’ in the American Church over the past 40 years. No longer do we buy your “progressive” brand of Catholicism. Those who once did have since left the Church either for the protestants or to ‘nowheresville.’ The Church is now in an active state of self-cleansing.

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  • Mima

    Unfortunately, Bishop Blair is just another one of many Church leaders & religious nuns who continue to confuse Catholics and other Christians with their liberal/progressive ideas. Faithful Catholics just have to become thoroughly knowledgeable about what our Magesterium truly teaches, & pray, pray, pray for those who try to lead us in the wrong direction.

  • Just Saying

    It is amazingly sad that Paul Ryan has recieved more criticism from fellow Catholics than the pro abortion “Catholic” politicians who outnumber him in this administration!

  • Steve Golay

    Interesting that the author’s well considered argument – by the way, bookmark and keep as handy reference – should provoke comments on the current and pending sex abuse court cases. They have potential of taking the wind out of the diocese. Too bad. I live here among many good people who do not need this – even the bishop’s distraction of nipping at the heels of candidate (soon vice president!) Ryan.

    Odd that all the bishop’s concerns may soon be swamped in the insignificant, out of the way Gold Rush town of San Andreas.

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  • FGA

    Had the case proceeded to trial, Cardinal Mahony would have been required to testify under oath about the abuse scandals in public court for the first time since they erupted ten years ago. Bishop Blaire’s settlement had the (perhaps unintended) consequence of obviating the necessity of Cardinal Mahony’s testimony at trial”

    unintended? yeah, right.

    • Steve Golay

      Regarding the upcoming San Andreas case: Though Mahony was not bishop when Fr. Kelly was assigned to St Andrews (though the man – and his character – was well known to him – will such like testimony be avoided this time? San Andreas could be a very different hot potato.

      Yes, other, different. Pay heed to the little telling details. Such get branded on the mind of 12-year-old boys when doors are closed, when parents are not home.

      Poor, poor parish – St. Andrews. It had to suffer Fr. Grady, now this. It’s almost as if the slaughtered shades of Charles Ng – stalking the air over Calaveras County – will not rest until every evil deed in the county is dug up and laid bare. The Foothills of the Sierras have much to tell beyond Mark Twain’s “Jumping Frogs”.

  • NewbieJames

    The government, according to the Church, should have no involvement with the poor. That is the duty of the Church. “it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over. “Of that which remaineth, give alms.”(14) It is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity – a duty not enforced by human law” Ever wonder why there are all those Catholic hospitals? It is because before the Marxist infiltration of the Church, she took care of the poor, including medical care.


  • irishsmile

    I am sure that the bishop understands the difference between issues of prudential judgement and the 5 non-negotiables. Why is he not presenting that? Let’s hope that Rome is noticing this failure to present the faith and this bishop will never get a red hat.

  • This bishop is starting to get a known reputation and it is not for orthodoxy or faithfulness.

  • hombre111

    Ahh, the old “prudential judgment.” This phrase has become the new pet of the Right, in this case, a nifty little way of saying that a man who might be vice president should not be judged for his moral principles based on the writings of that other great Christian, Ayn Rand.

    • Steve Golay

      Yes, Hombre, prudential judgment is very “old”. A moral guidance, a guiding principal with an ancient pedigree within doctrinal development of the Church. Not easily got rid of – unless you believe (pray the bishop doesn’t) that bottom-line Catholic ethics (personal & social) gets its own guidance from “positive law”: that of Hobbes, the faculty lounge of Harvard, and the brown-shirted boots of those hounding dogs against sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, and anit-obamaism. Positive Law is made up as the culture goes along pleasing, boot-licking our brown-shirted betters in the media, academia, the central government, the NGOs, the foundations.

      Why yield our Catholic powers of mind and heart to that? Prudential Judgment is deeply rooted in the Mind of the Church. It is a gift. One that maybe the good bishop has squandered. Four years ago Bishop Ryan was so enthusiastic about Obamacare for the arrival of “universal healthcare has been long in coming” thru agency of the Progressive Movement. (Am sure he had made the link.)

      Talk about something being “too long” hovering and hanging about: it is time to exorcise the dead hand of the Progressive Movement on Catholic moral thought. It’s time to develop catholic moral doctrine away from all that.

      Several times a month I have need to go to San Andreas. Several times a month I mull over these things.

      • hombre111

        Good thoughtful commentary, thanks. The problem is, conservatives have just discovered prudential judgment and they use it to support Republican positions. Progressives are very familiar with prudential judgment. They used it to demand the women’s right to vote, civil rights for people of color, an end to a nation involved in endless war, and etc.. All of these thing, of course, were and are opposed by conservatives. I can remember when I was a young priest in the 60’s and 70’s. It was dangerous to speak from the pulpit about civil rights because of the inevitable conservative backlash.. Now we take it for granted. The conservatives, against their prudential judgment, have been dragged kicking and screaming onto the right side of every moral issue beginning with democracy and freedom of religion.

        • Adam_Baum

          So what is it that you discovered that you use to support every tedious leftist position and oppose the Church on the issues you call baloney.

        • Steve Golay

          Fr. Hombre (it now is).

          Let us see who will be howling when the central government has exhausted itself and can no longer print the money to back its check writing addiction. (When the Feds don’t dare print more money, whom will the bishop tell the Feds to hound?)

          When the Latino population realizes that Obama has tossed them a bone, how will Bishop Ryan comfort them?

          The day is coming. What will bishop say when benefits are cuts, state union pensions are reduced, and health benefits are rationed? Let alone Obama’s own signature genocidal war in the Middle East. Will the bishop rally the troops on that score – as he has against our pockets?

          What will the bishop do when leftist Sacramento no longer need me as a dance partner to further the confiscation of our hard-earned incomes ; when the islamists have vacated the 1st amendment with President Obama’s signature on their anti-blasphemy laws and they no longer need him to grace their joint-declarations and symposiums.

          Bishop Ryan had a tin ear to Congressman Ryan’s reasoned heart. Too bad, sad. We will all pay the price. Our corporate soul will be as bankrupt as the City of Stockton.

  • danandsis

    We can all be thankful that Bishop Blaire isn’t sitting in the heavenly judgement seat

  • Sad to say, did we REALLY expect much different from a bishop whose diocese lies close to the Pacific Coast? Bishop Blaire may not think much of Paul Ryan, but frankly, I don’t think much of either Bishop Blaire OR his predecessor, Card Mahoney. I think both men need a sanity check.
    For my experience, one needs to move at least 100 miles inland–over the mountains, in other words–before one finds much sense. Sometimes I do pity the folks who live in California’s less populated areas. They get SUCH a bad rap!

  • gregoryvii

    This coming from a bishop who likely believes that Purgatory, Hell and Mortal Sin were all abolished by V-2, or at least the “Spirit” of V-2. Most liberals believe that Hell is rather sparsely populated. The only occupants of it are Hitler and faithful Catholics.

  • Alecto

    I would appreciate it if these bishops, all of them, would simply confine their activities and statements to increasing the faith, and knowledge of it by all Catholics. That’s the one thing they’ve failed to do more than any other duty.

    They do more harm than good by engaging in discussions of political issues about budgets, immigration, and entitlement spending, for which they are not well-informed nor are they objective. They anger and divide good people and they need to put a sock in it before we do it for them.

    • Adam_Baum

      Its almost impossible to “confine” the the pronouncements of Bishops, because so many things have moral dimensions. With that in mind however, you have to realize that topics like public finance and economics are fraught with all kinds of thickets. First there’s the technical issues. Consider something completely apolitical. We’ve all heard that you sell less if you charge more-unless there’s something called “perverse elasticity”.

      Worse, while economists often agree on the microeconomic (people, firms, etc) principles-on macroeconomics (national economies) are almost never divorced from politics-indeed there was a time when the term was “political economy”. There’s a lot of money being an economic adviser to a President to buttress political schemes.

      But when it comes right down to it, you have to be brain-dead not to see that all of this pontificating of economics came at time of growing atheist, relativist and secularist militancy, a loss of the flock as the very policies they advocated transferred money from Catholic families to the irresponsible and stupid-providing an inducement to contracept. I’m only 50, but in my grade school there were lots of families with 5 or 6 kids.

      I don’t know how to effect a turn-around. As I write this, the election was just called-now the Bishops have two problems. Absent judicial relief, (hah, hah) they will be forced to exit healthcare and that;’s going to mean a fire sale on formerly Catholic healthcare facilities. The corporal works of mercy will no longer be a positive public face on the Church. The animosity against religion is going to grow and the intrusions by the state will grow deeper and bolder.

      How this ever turns around, I do not know. I do know that Bishop Blaire’s retirement can’t come too soon.

  • 2012 election results. Catholics – 0; Democrats – 1.

  • Steve Golay

    Bishop Ryan (and Mr. Hombre) must be enthused. This bishop’s unjustified and mean-spirited battering of Candidate Ryan has born fruit. Vice President Biden with his gay abortion ways is saved. Maybe the bishop had gone after him

    Bishop Ryan’s remarks, four years ago, about the 100 year struggle of the Progressive Movement reaching its triumph in Obamacare rings in my mind, still – like a gong beating out the rhythm of our great republic.

    Paul Ryan is now under heel, Obama is rethroned, the fruit of that will be bitter indeed. Think the bishop has sown in rocky soil.

    But there will be a harvest. Little of it will be. And the moral starvation of America will be great and groaning – falling on the ash heap of a ruined economy.

    Yet the rethroning of Obama, and dragging of Paul Ryan through the street of a bankrupt and failed city like Stockton, will gather its dues and payment. The truest of revolutions is coming.

    Too bad bishops are more enthused about telling the state how to configate and spend other people’s money than they are being shepherds of souls in the devastation will a throned Obama will unleash upon the population.

    What will Bishop Ryan do when Obama will gather up his duties of being a bishop and toss it on the faggots of the raging fires of the Left/Islamist great arson of America.

    I fear for our liberties. The bishop obviously doesn’t. Let us pray.

  • Steve Golay

    And what about Religious Liberty. Obama is against that. And now rethroned, his campaign against Religious Liberty, allied with CAIR, ISNA, and other Brotherhood types, will be aggressive, hot, and vicious.

    Robert Spencer wrote the following this morning, the bishop should read twice and one time more:

    Continuing also will be the Obama Administration’s war against the
    freedom of speech. His signing on to the UN’s Resolution 16/18, calling
    for criminalization of “incitement to religious hatred,” was a telling
    indication of the direction he has consistently taken. For who will
    judge what constitutes “religious hatred”? Truthful speech about Islam
    and jihad is almost certain to be included under this rubric, and truth
    will be no defense. Obama’s rush to blame the Muhammad video for the
    jihad attack on our consulate in Benghazi is just the latest indication
    of how anxious he is to throw the freedom of speech under the bus.
    Expect an Obama second term to enact “hate speech” laws that will make
    enunciating the truth about the jihad threat a criminal offense.

  • Steve Golay

    A HUGE APOLOGY IS IN ORDER! Been calling Bishop Blaire Bishop “Ryan” in my post. I know better, I live here.

  • Steve Golay

    Excerpt below lifted from NRO, quoting Joel Kotkin (note the embedded remark by the late Daniel Bell).

    Bell makes the point that “nature and human nature” (that is, the human person) ceases to be central when the “social world” is throned, becomes tyrannical. That is the true human cost of Obamacare and the shrill pronouncements to spend, spend, spend, no matter the consequences. As long as the Social World survives and defines, it little matters whom gets trampled underfoot.

    It reminds me of what an Orthodox priest once told me, “It’s the Body of Christ that matters. Individuals come and go. God doesn’t really give them much mind. It’s the corporate Body that God sees. God’s gaze passes over all individual persons. Since God does not see you, give us no need, make sure you are seen by the corporate Body”. Left the Orthodox church on the remark.

    Chairman Ryan’s thoughts on the nation’s fiscal health (whatever its weaknesses) took the individual human person into account. If that make him a Catholic Randian, so be it. To me it rings of the Gospel, that, bottom-line, God has a heart to walk away from the Corporate Collective to seek out lost lambs and coins.

    In some honest-to-goodness Natural Law way, to tag the Body of Christ as a Corporate Collective diminishes the Great Mystery, utter fullness and completion of God’s Flesh. When she is read carefully, even Ayn Rand nods a “yes”.

    The Corporate Collective has no standing over the individual human person. Regardless, how clobbered together – especially by progressive bishops – the collective never makes a Body. Even on a Natural Law “secular”level, the Founding Fathers understood that.

    “…Don’t mourn too much for Obama, who’s held his own in the cash race by
    assembling a new, competing coalition of wealthy backers, from the “new
    hierarchies of technical elites” that Daniel Bell predicted in 1976 in
    The Coming Of Post-Industrial Society. For that group, Bell wrote,
    nature and human nature ceased to be central, as “fewer now handle
    artifacts or things” so that “reality is primarily the social
    world”—which, he warned, “gives rise to a new Utopianism” that
    mistakenly treats human nature as something that can be engineered and
    corrected by instruction from their enlightened betters. This approach,
    although often grounded in good intention, can easily morph into a
    technocratic authoritarianism. Along with Hollywood, Obama’s big donors
    have come from the tech sector, government, and the academy…”

  • cjd2

    It is not the duty of the govenment thorugh taxation to provide massive social programs – it is the duty of evey citizen to step up and directly help those who need help – ligitemate charitable organizations that put 90% plus in helping people are better than a govenment that uses 50% + for bureaucracy and even more for political payoffs with little going to really help the those in need. The bishops of the Catholic Church need to wake up and start leading and quit being such wimps and socialists. I am a practicing Catholic.

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