(CBS News) Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., argued on Thursday that his Catholic faith guided the budget he authored for the Republican Party, addressing criticism from Catholics who charge his budget unfairly targets the poor at the expense of the rich.
"The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it," Ryan said. "What I have to say about the social doctrine of the Church is from the viewpoint of a Catholic in politics applying my understanding to the problems of the day."
Ryan delivered the Whittington Lecture at Georgetown University, a Jesuit school where 90 priests and members of the faculty sent him a letter on Wednesday accusing him of authoring a budget that "decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few."
"In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ," the letter read. "Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love."
But Ryan disavowed the philosopher in an interview with the National Review published on Thursday. "I reject her philosophy," he said. "It's an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview."
In his speech at Georgetown, Ryan defended the key points of his budget and argued that his personal thinking has been guided by the Catholic principles of "solidarity" and "subsidiarity." The latter principle emphasizes the importance of placing the duties of governing at a local level.
"Our budget offers a better path, consistent with the timeless principles of our nation's founding and, frankly, consistent with how I understand my Catholic faith," Ryan said. "We put our trust in people, not in government. Our budget incorporates subsidiarity by returning power to individuals, to families, and to communities."
The Georgetown priests and faculty, however, rejected this idea, arguing Ryan was "profoundly misreading Church teaching." Subsidiarity, they said, calls for solutions to be enacted at a community level when possible but also requires that the government step in when communities and local governments "face problems beyond their means to address such as economic crises, high unemployment, endemic poverty and hunger."
As Ryan spoke, about a dozen students who identified themselves as members of Occupy Georgetown gathered in the balcony of the school's Gaston Hall holding a large banner that read, "Stop the war on the poor." Outside, another dozen members of Catholics United, a non-profit charitable organization, had their own protest featuring a banner that asked, "Were you there when they crucified the poor?"
Father Thomas Reese, one of the authors of the Georgetown letter, said he was unconcerned about a possible precedent of clergy members telling politicians what to do.
"Catholic bishops don't run for political office. Catholic priests don't endorse candidates or endorse political parties. But I think we have an obligation, like the prophets in the Old Testament, to talk, to challenge people to be concerned about the widows and the orphans and the poor," Reese told reporters after the speech.
Ryan, who is among the potential vice presidential candidates for Mitt Romney, briefly mentioned his thoughts about the No. 2 job.
"I've got an important job where I am right now, I'm content with this job, I feel that America is in a very unique moment and we've got to get it right. And don't underestimate the importance of Congress," he said.