The nun who questioned House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier this week at a town hall about whether he believes he is upholding the teachings of the Catholic church to care for the poor and dispossessed said she was not satisfied with Ryan’s answer in an interview with ThinkProgress Wednesday.
“He speaks pretty openly about being a Catholic, but I haven’t seen that reflected in his policy recommendations and the things that he’s working on,” said Sister Erica Jordan, the Dominican nun who asked Ryan a question at Monday’s event, which was Ryan’s first town hall in two years. “[I haven’t seen them] as reflective of Catholic social teaching.”
Jordan’s question for Ryan was focused on whether the speaker believes the GOP’s recent attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare, and its forthcoming tax reform efforts, are the best ways to help the poor and others in need. When she asked Ryan her question, Ryan said he “completely” agreed with her, but that he thought they might simply disagree on how to achieve that goal.
“He speaks pretty openly about being a Catholic, but I haven’t seen that reflected in his policy recommendations and the things that he’s working on.”
“Where we may disagree is on how to achieve that goal. We exercise prudential judgment in practicing our faith,” Ryan said. “For me — for the poor that’s key to the Catholic faith. That means mobility, economic growth, equality of opportunity.”
Ryan added Monday that he thinks fighting poverty should be measured on outcomes, not measured on how much money the government spends on programs or how many people are on those programs.
That wasn’t a satisfying answer for Jordan.
“Funding is being cut from all kinds of things that would help the poor and working class,” she said Wednesday. “He talked about providing job training programs as one way to help people who were poor. But the budget that’s proposed would cut education and job training by 25 percent, so [that] doesn’t fall together.”
Jordan also noted that when Ryan talked about social programs, he didn’t acknowledge the many ways people have been helped by social programs or that Republican plans to cut taxes would disproportionately benefit the wealthy, rather than help the poor.
The nun said she felt Ryan was patronizing to each of the women who questioned him at his town hall, and that it was frustrating not to be able to respond to his answer at the time.
“I was hoping we could have a conversation. It was very frustrating not to respond,” Jordan said. “I don’t understand how these programs that you’re talking about are going to really do anything, since you’re cutting the funding out from under them in the budget. They’re not going to go anywhere.”
Jordan said Wednesday that her faith was part of what compelled her to question the speaker.
“I think we’re supposed to be a voice in contrast to things that are against the common good. Things that are against the poor. Things that disadvantage people of color,” she said. “So I had no idea that this was going to ripple so far, but I’m really grateful that people are thinking about it, whether they agree or not.”
Ryan has been very vocal about his Catholic faith, but nuns and other Catholic leaders have a history of pushing back against Ryan and a number of policies he supports. Thousands of nuns signed a letter in June opposing the Senate health care bill, which was also condemned by the Catholic Health Association. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops weighed in as well, saying the effort was “simply unacceptable.”
A group of nuns led by Sister Simone Campbell also ran a cross-country campaign called “nuns on a bus” that opposed Ryan’s budget.
But Jordan made clear Wednesday that she did not want to pass judgment on whether Ryan is a good Catholic or not.
“I don’t want to make a comment on Paul Ryan not being a good Catholic,” she said. “My point is that he is missing the point on some of it.”