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Anti-Catholic bias at play in replacing the chaplain of the House

Greg Nash

Speaker of the House and professed Catholic Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) recently asked Jesuit Priest, Patrick J. Conroy to resign his post as chaplain of the House. There is much speculation as to why Ryan asked for Conroy’s resignation but Democrats argue was due in part to a prayer the chaplain gave on the House floor on Nov. 6, while congressmen were debating tax overhaul legislation.

Conroy said, “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,” he prayed. “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.”

{mossecondads}Although Ryan’s office denies this, Conroy believes this was why he was asked to give his resignation. Additionally, Rep. 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.


Walker’s statement would preclude Catholic nuns and priests who take vows of celibacy. The glaring hypocrisy in these two incidences speaks not to partisan misconduct by a chaplain or defects in Catholic practice, but to a larger struggle undertaken by some to separate the act of practicing one’s faith from the social justice inherent in those faiths.  

The most glaring inconsistency is that the prayer itself reflects everything supporters professed in the tax bill anyway. Conroy says that there should be no winners and losers but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans. This is the exact line of reasoning supporters of the bill used when fighting for its passage. They argued that it would benefit all Americans.

To condemn Conroy’s prayer as partisan is to condemn the tax bill, to call it unbalanced, and to claim that all Americans will not share in its rewards. To call this prayer partisan is to shed light on what most of us already know, this tax bill was a giveaway to the richest on behalf of the poorest.

However, there is a larger point at stake, this prayer reflects the tenets of Catholic social teaching and what it means to practice as a Catholic. To care for all creation, to look out for the poor, and to lift up those who are marginalized are all pillars of Catholic faith and all other faiths.

Conroy’s call for balance, fairness, and opportunity for all citizens is a profession of his faith as a Catholic teacher not a partisan strike against a tax bill. To strike against Conroy is in reality a move to strike against social justice teachings within faith traditions.

Some representatives would like to profess a faith devoid of social implications, where worship entails praying for heaven while acting with impunity on earth. This strike against Conroy is part of a larger struggle within society to re-define faith without its social implications and that means condemning those who call for equality, justice, and evenhandedness in the name of faith, as partisan.

Walker, in a recent article in the Hill, calls for a non-Catholic to hold the next spiritual position and his statements in support of that draw false assumptions regarding Catholic mentorship in an attempt to delegitimize the importance of Catholic Social Teaching.

“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.

The assumption here is that a Catholic priest or nun would be unable to provide this type of counseling because they don’t have families of their own. Never mind the fact that Catholic priests and nuns counsel and provide spiritual guidance to families every day in local congregations all over the world. Every day while leading parishes, Catholic priests provide marriage and family counseling.

If representatives are in such great need of family counseling then perhaps the problem is bigger than a spiritual advisor could provide. Perhaps they need to consider seeing a professional therapist. And if it is just a matter of speaking to someone, than a Catholic would be just as capable as any other faith leader.

Finally, Walker states that he is looking for somebody with more of a non-denominational background, that has a multicultural congregation. Perhaps Walker misspoke but the assumption that a Catholic does not work with a multicultural congregation is patently absurd. Catholic faith is practiced all around the world and to argue for its lack of diversity only betrays a stunning ignorance and a seemingly anti-Catholic bias on Walker’s part.

Due to his apparent anti-Catholic bias the Republican Party should remove Walker from the selection committee. Catholics across the nation are owed an apology from Walker and from the Republican Party. There is no place in politics for such anti-Catholic remarks.

However, I believe the point of these moves is not to increase diversity or find a spiritual advisor who can relate to family concerns but to strike at and delegitimize any tenets of social justice within the faith traditions so that those who continue to lead immorally can do so comfortably knowing that their place in heaven is still secure.  

Patrick Carolan is a Catholic activist, the executive director of the Franciscan Action Network.

Tags Catholic Church Mark Walker Patrick Carolan Paul Ryan

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