The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops may have jumped to the Republicans' defense during the national debate surrounding contraception, but on Tuesday, the religious organization questioned the GOP's moral fortitude in regards to a proposed House budget it says would gut crucial safety net programs for the poor.

In a letter addressed to the U.S. House of Representatives, the bishops questioned the budget cuts to food stamps, health care and other entitlement programs contained in the House Republican budget, which was authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a practicing Catholic. In particular, they criticized the Republicans' attempt to target those programs as part of a reconciliation package that will set spending levels for the next fiscal year.

A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly, wrote Reverend Stephen E. Blaire, the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

As Blaire pointed out, the House GOP proposal aims to alter the Child Tax Credit to exclude immigrant families, the large majority of whom are American citizens. It would also impose cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), which the bishop wrote would be a direct threat to [the] human dignity of poor families. Moreover, the budget also includes cuts to the Social Services Block Grant, which provides aid for the elderly, disabled, children living in poverty and abuse victims.

The proposed cuts to programs in the budget reconciliation fail this basic moral test, states the letter. Poor and vulnerable people do not have powerful lobbyists to advocate their interests, but they have the most compelling needs.

Under the Republican plan, nearly two million people would lose food assistance through SNAP, while at least 750,000 would lose access to health insurance via cuts to Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act and another 23 million would be affected by the repeal of the Social Services Block Grant, according to an analysis of the plan from Democrats on the House Budget Committee.

Ryan, as the House Budget Chairman who is also a rumored contender for the Republican vice presidential nomination, has been under particular pressure to answer for the perceived moral failings pointed out by the Catholic bishops. The Wisconsin Republican was blasted by Catholic groups after saying his austere budget was inspired by Catholic teachings.

Although Ryan, while speaking at the Catholic-affiliated Georgetown University last month, insisted his plan called for a system that would create the economic growth necessary to lift people out of poverty, faculty members penned a letter to Ryan challenging his understanding of Catholic doctrine.

In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love, stated the letter, which was signed by almost 90 of the university's faculty members.

Rand was the creator of the philosophy known as objectivism, which advocates rational self-interest -- the pursuit of one's individual happiness -- as the moral purpose for life and celebrates individualism over collectivism.

Shortly after his Georgetown appearance, Ryan -- who has often been characterized as an Ayn Rand junkie -- told the National Review that he rejects Rand's philosophy and dismissed the idea that he admires the author as an urban legend.

But any urban legend about Ryan's affinity for the author, who is widely admired among conservatives and libertarians, started with Ryan himself. During a 2003 interview with the Weekly Standard, Ryan gushed that he gave away copies of Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged as Christmas presents and recommended it to his interns.

He reportedly reiterated that sentiment again in 2005, during an event honoring Rand in Washington, D.C., hosted by The Atlas Society.

The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thing, one person, it would be Ayn Rand, Ryan said while speaking at the event, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.