Paul Ryan's Catholic Faith Comes Under Scrutiny

Since Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced last week that Rep. Paul Ryan is his running mate, the media spotlight has been on the congressman's Catholic faith as well as whether his budget plans are in line with his denomination's social doctrine.

Ryan, a devout Catholic, is a member of St. John Vianney, a Catholic parish, in Janesville, Wis., where he was also an altar boy.

However, his parents never imposed their religious views on him. "It was not forced upon us. It was exposed, and some of us embraced it more than others," Wall Street Journal quoted Tobin Ryan, the Wisconsin representative's brother, as saying on Friday.

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The 42-year-old congressman had a strong faith even at 16, when his father died. "I could see he had very much developed and matured in his faith," Tobin Ryan said. "We were able to communicate and share quite openly our own beliefs – versions of faith."

Tobin Ryan also said their father always had the siblings at church on time. "But each of us grew up to discover our own path," he said earlier this week, according to The Los Angeles Times. "And Paul has certainly chosen his beliefs and a very, very strong value system. It's an important part of his life."

Paul Ryan has said his policies are rooted in his beliefs – not only his positions against homosexuality and abortion but also on government spending, deficit reduction and entitlements.

Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee and is seen as an architect of the 2012 and 2013 House Republican budget plans, has drawn criticism from sections of his church over his call for steep cuts to food stamps, health care for children and the disabled, and social programs.

A team of Catholic nuns traveled across the country in the summer, claiming Ryan's budget plans would harm the poor.

Last year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops warned lawmakers against voting in favor of Ryan's plan. "We join with other Christian leaders in calling for a 'circle of protection' around our brothers and sisters at home and abroad who are poor and vulnerable," the bishops wrote, adding that the true measure of the nation is "how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated."

Ryan defended his conservative budget blueprint in a speech at Georgetown University in April. "I suppose there are some Catholics who for a long time have thought they had a monopoly of sorts … not exactly on heaven, but on the social teaching of our Church," he said. "Of course there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this."

Ryan said his work "as a Catholic holding office" conforms to the social doctrine "as best I can make of it." "The overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt," he said. "The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities, and individuals running up high debt levels are 'living at the expense of future generations' and 'living in untruth.'"

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network in April, Ryan spoke about "the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism – meaning government closest to the people governs best – having a civil society of the principle of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that's how we advance the common good."

The Rev. Randy Timmerman, Ryan's parish priest, is with him. "I think Paul has always just found himself closely connected to the life and the heart of what it means to be a Catholic – and trying to bring that into the place of government," he was quoted as saying.

This fall, Ryan will debate Vice President Joe Biden, who is also a practicing Catholic but does not oppose gay marriage and abortion.

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