By Heather Reed/Office of the Speaker of the House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Heather Reed/Office of the Speaker of the House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hard choices ahead for Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House in a congress that is strongly Catholic.

When Paul Ryan got elected as the House's 66th speaker last week, he represented the dominance of Catholic members in the U.S. Congress. The speaker now presides over a body where a third of its members follow the Catholic faith.

During his inaugural speech as the U.S. House Speaker, Ryan urged the House members to pray for deeper understanding as they are all passengers of the same boat. He is factually correct in the sense as both his predecessors, John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, were Catholics as well. Like the two of them, Ryan has encountered difficulties with Catholic Church regarding social policies. Pelosi had problems with abortion rights and Boehner had a rough ride with immigration reform. Ryan is likely to suffer differences with the church on the issue of social safety net.

Approximately 31 percent of present Congress members identify as Catholic. The U.S. Supreme Court has six Catholic justices. The statistics are the more interesting as both these percentages are higher than American public, where about 22 percent of the population identify themselves as belonging to the Catholic denomination. John Boehner, the former House Speaker is a Catholic as well and dreamed of a pope visiting Congress. His wish came true as he met the Pope during the latter's visit.

Paul Ryan, the 45-year-old Republican from Wisconsin has indicated in the beginning of November of his intention to ignore Church pleas for passing immigration reform during the president-ship of Barack Obama. This may possibly cause discomfort to U.S. bishops. The latter have devoted a considerable amount of resources and time to passing an exhaustive reform on immigration.  Pope Francis will also be displeased by such actions. The pope has repeatedly urged the members of Congress to respond as humanely as possible to the conditions of the refugees.

Immigration will not be the only problem Ryan will face during his tenure as speaker. He is already acquainted with disputes over the domestic welfare programs. As a member of House Budget Committee, Ryan had slashed food stamps and social safety nets. American bishops decried his budgets as they failed basic moral tests. There was also concern in the Catholic Church over Ryan's proposal to do away with the tax credits offered to undocumented families.

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