- (Photo: American Conservative Union/Eric Draper)
Alumni of a small, private Catholic liberal arts college located in Atchison, Kansas, protested on Saturday while Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) delivered the commencement address at the university.
The group of alumni, which also signed a petition urging the college to rescind Ryan's invitation to speak, argued that Ryan's budget proposal, which seeks to lower the national deficit by cutting entitlement programs, is against the Catholic values of helping the poor.
"Ryan's budget will seriously reduce the significant and necessary role played by the government in the lives of Americans in need," the petition, which was addressed to the college's president, Stephen Minnis, and signed by 365 supporters on change.org, stated.
The petition went on to reference the national budget's moral guidelines provided by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2012, one of which stated:
"A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects 'the least of these' (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first."
Others took to the petition's comments section to express their dismay at Ryan's planned speech, which took place Saturday in the Ralph Nolan Gymnasium on the Benedictine campus.
Some, such as Gary Burkart of Atchison, noted how Congressman Ryan has been associated with being a representative of Catholic teachings because he is pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, but he does not represent other facets of Catholic morals in regards to charity or helping the poor.
"We have emphasized in recent time and recent commencement speakers who we say represent Catholic teachings, usually interpreted as pre-birth life issues. We should be telling the world that we are consistent with the 'seamless garment' of life issues after birth also," Burkart wrote.
"Mr. Ryan does not represent the rich, fullness of Catholic social teaching with respect to these issues and should not be brought to Benedictine College simply because of his emphasis on only part of our Catholic heritage," Burkart added.
Others, such as Sharon Hamsa as Kansas City, Mo., took issue with Ryan's self-proclaimed adherence to the philosophy of author Ayn Rand of professing the importance of individualism instead of collectivism and rejecting ethical altruism.
"I believe that Paul Ryan is following the teaching of Ayn Rand rather than the teachings of Jesus or the urgings of Pope Francis. I am saddened to think that he will be speaking at this Catholic Institution for graduation. It is so inappropriate and unfair to the graduating students," wrote Hamsa.
According to the St. Joe Channel, about 30 members of the moveon.org group stood at the entrance of the college on Saturday prior to Ryan's commencement address to protest the speech, which took place successfully at 10 a.m.
Regardless of some backlash from the college's alumni, Benedictine's president, Stephen Minnis, defended the institution's choice of speaker, reportedly writing in a letter to alumni that the congressman reveals the college's "desire to inspire in our students the ambition to aim high. We regard having a national figure on our campus as a great opportunity."
Minnis described Ryan as a "real servant leader" and a "great family man" who is "tied to his beliefs," in a press release announcing the speaking engagement on Benedictine College's website.
Additionally, Minnis told the National Catholic Reporter that prior to inviting Ryan to speak, he consulted with Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wis., Ryan's bishop, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas.
These bishops told Minnis that they believe Ryan, who is head of the House Budget Committee, is "making a sincere effort to make his budget consistent with Catholic social teaching and they did not see this as a non-negotiable," with other non-negotiable items of the Catholic social agenda being an opposition to same-sex marriage and a pro-life stance.
Ryan was also recommended to speak at the college by George Weigel, a prominent Catholic political activist who is the Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Ryan, who was the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2012, has been criticized by some for his previously proposed budget plans, which seek to balance the national deficit by cutting entitlement programs, such as social security and medicare.
Those in support of social security and medicare argue that it helps those poorest in American society climb the economic ladder and eventually become more successful and financially independent.
Ryan's most recent budget plan, which was narrowly approved by the U.S. House in March, was hailed by House Republicans as offering a "balanced" federal government which does not spend more than it receives in revenue over a course of 10 years.
One of the most controversial aspects of the budget plan was the continued suggestion of a medicare overhaul, with seniors 55 years and older being exempt from the overhaul and instead receiving government subsidies to purchase private insurance.