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Catholic right silent on firing of House chaplain

House of Representative Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy

Last week’s firing of the Catholic chaplain of the House of Representatives by Speaker Paul Ryan has been greeted with silence by those normally voluble defenders of the faith on the Catholic right.

EWTN, to be sure, took note of the story with a news report. But we are now five days into the story of why Ryan asked for the resignation of Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, S.J., and one looks in vain for an opinion from LifeSiteNews, Church Militant, or Phil Lawler—to say nothing of Dwight Longenecker, Edward Pentin, or the rest of the National Catholic Register bloggers, not to mention the boys at the Acton Institute Powerblog.

The Register did run a story titled “Paul Ryan’s Plan to Alleviate Poverty: Change ‘Handouts’ to ‘Hand-Ups,’” which can be considered an oblique defense of Ryan, inasmuch as initial reports indicated that the firing occurred because back in November Conroy had the temerity to pray:

May all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.

This, according to Conroy, led Ryan to tell him to “stay out of politics.”

All in all, the only direct comment I could find from the conservative Catholic choir on l’affaire Conroy was delivered by the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue. It’s, well, revealing:

It appears that Ryan felt Father Conroy was getting too political in his job. According to Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Catholic Democrat, “For a lot of members, the outrage is personal, and it’s not about Catholicism.”

That being the case, I saw no role for the Catholic League: anti-Catholicism had nothing to do with this controversy. But now things have changed.

Mind you, Connolly did not say that the firing had nothing to do with Catholicism. He said it was the outrage at the firing that had nothing to do with Catholicism.

And let us note that on the same day Donohue issued his pronunciamento, Ryan denied that politics had anything to do with the dismissal. Instead, according to Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), he told his Republican colleagues “that there were concerns expressed to him, the speaker, from a large number of members that their pastoral needs were not being met by Father Conroy.”

In fact, what bestirred Donohue was the “pastoral needs” issue—made manifest in a statement from Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), an ordained Baptist, expressing the hope that the new House Chaplain would be somebody who “has adult children” who can “connect with the bulk of the body here.”

So Donohue changed his mind about weighing in because of Walker’s insinuation that no (celibate) Catholic cleric need apply. Which is to say that if Ryan didn’t fire Conroy because of politics, as he insisted he didn’t, then he fired him because of anti-Catholicism.

But Donohue wouldn’t say that. Nor would anyone else on the Catholic right take a poke at co-religionist Ryan. Like him, a goodly number have made their pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Ayn. Libertarian plutocrats butter their bread.

So why speak out for a Jesuit (like Pope Francis!) who expresses a little traditional Catholic concern for the poor? Let the Protestants have their way.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

60 Comments

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  • I think it’s reasonable that some feel that celibate men are nit the best source of counsel regarding sex, marriage and children. That’s not anti catholicism IMO. Political neutrality is called for in that post.

  • Of course no one on the Catholic Right condemned Paul Ryan’s action of firing the Catholic chaplain of the House of Representatives. That’s because they’re more aligned with the “Right” part than they are the “Catholic” part. That’s their team. That’s their tribe. And they never, ever part company with the tribe.

  • The issues involved do not appear to involve left or right but what the proper role of the chaplain is.

  • I would say that the prayer offered by the chaplain for an equally just tax system was neutral. Probably more so than Jesus would have offered.

  • WHO CARES about some 2nd-rate chaplain job ?

    Hundreds of white Catholics are denied jobs every day because of racial quota, affirmative action, and so-called “diversity” programs. To say nothing of forced busing….slum housing….attacks on religious freedoms…..theft of Catholic Church property.

    The Democratic Party and liberalism are inherently anti-Catholic and anti-white.

  • The Right = Pro-Catholic.

    The Left = Anti-Catholic.

    The only “tribe’ worth worrying about is the left-wing tribe at The New York Times.

  • Ah, the poor, beleaguered, white, heterosexual male. So oppressed for so many centuries, denied privilege at every turn, while all those “others” cut in line before him. Let me get out the world’s smallest trombone so I can play the world’s saddest song for him. Wah, wah, wah.

  • The chaplain prayed for care for the poor. How is that out of line? I have yet to read anywhere any specific description of how Fr. Conroy did not meed “the pastoral needs” of the Representatives.

  • Are the House chaplains expected to give specific counsel regarding sex, marriage, and children? It’s not clear to me how that would be part of the job of the chaplain of the House of Representatives.

  • I was unaware that the Representatives were poor.

    Apparently, then, his concern was for “the pastoral needs” of someone or someones other then the Representatives.

  • His prayer for lawmakers to “guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans” sounds like he is addressing the pastoral needs of the representatives. He is asking them to be fair.

  • Is your issue with anti-Catholicism or some anti-white agenda? Many Catholics in the US are not white and they appear to be a growing population.

  • What you describe appears to address the pastoral needs of the payers of taxes.

  • This is a description of the position from the House of Representatives website: “In addition to opening proceedings with prayer, the Chaplain provides
    pastoral counseling to the House community, coordinates the scheduling
    of guest chaplains, and arranges memorial services for the House
    and its staff. In the past, Chaplains have performed marriage and
    funeral ceremonies for House members.” http://history.house.gov/People/Office/Chaplains/.

    So, it would seem that the principal function is to open the proceedings with prayer. How is it wrong to ask for the Representatives to be guided by God to be fair to all? Isn’t that asking God to guide them in doing the job with which they are tasked?

    Would not the pastoral needs of people include the need to be guided to do their job well and fairly?

  • Apparently it was wrong enough for him to lose the position.

    Since his was an at will position – he could be replaced for any reason or no reason – and a statement as to the cause or causes for him to be asked to resign does not exist, the rest is pure speculation.

  • Except he is directing the comment to the Representatives and asking them to provide a balanced tax law on behalf of the “payers of taxes”. Based on the limited amount that I read Fr. Conroy being accused of saying, I also don’t see how his comments are political unless providing a balanced and fair law as something is an attribute of one political party.

  • Since we do not have anything definitive as to why he was asked to step down, this is all speculation.

    In reading “The Hill”

    http://thehill.com

    the narrative is coming from the Democrats.

    Something else may afoot.

    Mark Walker (R-N.C.), one of three representatives looking for Conroy’s replacement, told The Hill that the next spiritual leader should be someone with a family who can better relate and counsel lawmakers with spouses and children.

    “I’m looking for somebody who has a little age, that has adult children, that kind of can connect with the bulk of the body here, Republicans and Democrats who are going through, back home the wife, the family … that has some counseling experience,” he said.

    Walker also stated that he is looking for somebody with more of a non-denominational background, that has a multi-cultural congregation.

    Conroy was only the second Catholic to be chaplain. The most common denomination appears to be Methodist, followed by Presbyterian:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaplain_of_the_United_States_House_of_Representatives

  • Speculation is an apt word for religion.

    But to your point, I agree there seems to be other motives. I don’t want to jump on the anti-Catholic bandwagon but Mark Walker is a southern baptist so there may be some antagonism towards Catholics. His call for someone from a non-denominational background could also be code for an evangelical.

  • Speculation is an apt word for atheism.

    The track record is for generic Protestant.

    Conroy was appointed when Nancy Pelosi, a nominal Catholic, and John Boehner, a practicing Catholic, were running the House.

    He replaced Daniel P. Coughlin, also Catholic and also the first Catholic chaplain.

  • I don’t know what you mean “track record for generic Protestants”. If you are suggesting non-denomination Christians are generic that is true only by definition rather than fact. Generally speaking, the non-denomination movement took off in America among the more conservative evangelicals. Anyone could then start a church and preach. These Christians tended to be fundamentalists and anything but generic.

    So what if the past two chaplains were Catholic. That doesn’t mean that Walker might be anti-Catholic.

  • I gave you the information on the number of each denomination appointed.

    If you think that “Methodist” and “Presbyterian” means something beyond “generic Protestant”, I would love to know what you think distinguishes them.

    The phrase “anti-Catholic” appears for the very first time in your post to which I am responding.

  • I agree the track record has been in favor of mainline Protestants. I was referring to walkers use of non-denominational Christians who are not part of the generic.

    The anti catholic bias is the premiss for much of the current speculation. I don’t know if that is a reason for conroys dismal but walkers background and specific use of non denominational suggest he wants a conservative evangelical. Does it matter? Not to me since I’m not part of the catholic vs. Protestant battle.

  • And the congressman is “looking for somebody who has a little age, that has adult children…”

    In other words, Roman Catholic clerics need not apply.

  • I can play my itty bitty teeny violin to the tune of “My heart bleeds for you, bleeds for you, bleeds for you [white, beleaguered, put-upon heterosexual males].

  • Both…and neither.

    I simply will not be discriminated against because I am Irish, white, or Catholic. It’s high time the Catholic bishops got off their social justice warrior nonsense using white ethnics like me as an ATM machine to finance their laundry list of anti-Catholic liberal spending programs to appease Weakland, Bernadin, Hunthausen, Cupich, Mahoney and the rest of the frauds.

  • Not oppressed any more. Trump has unleased the most potent force in American politics: the white backlash.

    The left-wing race pimps and their white liberal enablers will never know what hit them. The Southern Strategy was a cigarette lighter up their asses.

    This will be a flame thrower.

  • It’s not so much that I am a heterosexual, it’s just that I know that the anus is an exit not an entrance.

  • My organization remembers you from The National Catholic Destroyer.

    Our leader, Frank Perrone, was key in mobilizing White Catholics For Trump. Cambridge A. helped us target these upscale white ethnics.

    20 million new white voters will be registered for the 2020 elections. Black supremacist ideology and anti-Semitism is helping us enormously.

  • “My heart bleeds for you, bleeds for you, bleeds for you,” Mischief-maker.

  • No need…the GOP now realizes that race-issues are winning issues and the liberal media and the Democratic Party can’t do anything about it.

  • We were the marging of victory in 3 states. We distrited hundreds of thousands of pamphlets linking Hillary to racial quotas, affirmative action, crime, and left-wing black racists like Al Sharpton and John Conyers (since resigned for pinching white women’s asses).

  • Aren’t you Catholic? I’d expect you to be outraged given that the firing appeared to be over the insinuation that a celibate cleric could not provide pastoral care to married men.
    EDITED to change to “married men” from “married people,” based on your expanded quote from Walker concerning “back home the wife.”

  • You can head on over to National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, America, and a host of other Catholic websites and read about aspirations that “spiritual leader(s) should be someone with a family who can better relate and counsel … with spouses and children.” in favor of changing the Latin Rite discipline on celibacy and/or overturning the teaching on ordain women.

    Bradley Mark Walker is laying his cards on the table, and given that he is an ordained Southern Baptist minister and represents the 6th Congressional distict in North Carolina, the most populous component of which is the east end of Greensboro

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/60/North_Carolina_US_Congressional_District_6_%28since_2017%29.tif/lossless-page1-1920px-North_Carolina_US_Congressional_District_6_%28since_2017%29.tif.png

    he is not saying anything aimed at Catholic priests per se.

  • Since Representative Walker is in-group in the Congress, I believe he is well within his rights with his comments.

  • I meant the discussion about priestly celibacy going on at the National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, etc., among Catholics themselves.

  • Racial quotas, affirmative action, forced busing, diversity crap, slum housing, among others.

  • How have you been impacted by any of that? I’m white, raised Catholic, grew up in a predominantly Catholic urban neighborhood (filled with Irish, Italian, and Polish cops and firemen) and can’t say I have ever suffered from what you are describing. I’m not suggesting white people haven’t been affected by that but I wonder at the real impact.

  • I have been denied jobs repeatedly because of my religious, ethnic, and racial heritage.

    I even had several job offers rescinded by HR/personnel because I negatively impacted their “diversity” quotient. In one case, I was on my way to sign my employment papers when I received the call from the individual who hired me who told me he was told the offer had to be revoked.

    Quotas and reverse discrimination are rampant in Corporate America (Google) and govenrment hiring (Police and Fire).

  • Ryan is on his last lap. I am sure he could care less, and unhappiness is not going to change a thing.

  • Yes. Many of us (ie Catholics) believe that Latin rite clergy should be allowed to marry. However, it’s ludicrous (and possibly illegal) to suggest that the chaplain for the House of Representatives must be married (ie cannot be a Latin-rite Catholic).

  • No, the House is free to set its own criterion for selection of a chaplain.

    There is no applicable anti-discrimination statute.

    Btw, there are married priests in the Latin Rite, so “cannot be a Latin-rite Catholic” is not correct.

  • Not necessarily. If he’s speaking as a government officer, he needs to be sectarian-neutral; his comments were not.

  • By what authority must he be “sectarian-neutral”?

    He’s a Representative in the Congress. They are without exception all anything but neutral, and there is no requirement that they be so.

    Also note he never used the word “Catholic”.

  • Pastoral care has a very wide definition. If someone needs counseling re sex, marriage, and children beyond what they feel that a Catholic priest can provide, it would probably be wiser to turn to a professional therapist.

  • As the point of the spear, Ryan pretty much does the bidding of the House members.

    He has no particular stake in it personally, but House members have been getting bad optics and letters from constituents.

    So he said yesterday:

    “I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House. My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution. To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves.”

    “It is my job as speaker to do what is best for this body. And I know that this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post.”

    Thus ends that tempest in a teapot.

    Ryan will be out of the Congress in less than a year and back to something which probably correlates much better with reality than the House does.

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