House chaplain is a champion of true Catholicism — Paul Ryan is not

House chaplain is a champion of true Catholicism — Paul Ryan is not
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When Reverend Patrick Conroy SJ resigned as chaplain of the House on April 13, he made it clear that he did so under pressure from Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBush, Romney won't support Trump reelection: NYT Twitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world MORE’s office.

Conroy officially took back his resignation on May 3 in a letter to Ryan stating, “I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House chaplain. It is my desire to continue to serve as House chaplain in this 115th United States Congress and beyond.”


In the letter Conroy states that Ryan’s chief of staff Jonathan Burks was dispatched to ask for his resignation and when questioned cited a prayer Conroy had given on the house floor on Nov. 6 in which he called for the new tax bill, still being debated, to have no winners and losers but to benefit all Americans. Burks also said that it was time for a non-Catholic to hold the position.


Hours after Conroy delivered the letter Ryan accepted and reinstated him as House chaplain.

The facts surrounding this situation have been pored over countless times in the last three weeks, revealing a startling degree of anti-Catholic sentiment inherent not only in the Speakers office but in all those who don’t believe a Catholic can provide pastoral services to people of different backgrounds.

This bias was confirmed by Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerPence confidant helps 24-year-old beat Trump-backed candidate Rubio to introduce bill allowing NCAA athletes to make money from name, likeness Democrats press OSHA official on issuing an Emergency Temporary Standard MORE (R-N.C.), part of the search committee originally dispatched to find Conroy’s replacement, who stated that he was looking for someone with a family who can better relate to a multicultural congregation. This would of course disqualify Catholic nuns and priests who take vows of celibacy though not vows concerning multicultural congregations.

However, there is a more implicit bias here that has been largely overlooked concerning Catholic social teaching and what it means to be a Catholic. What Conroy’s prayer represents is not some partisan hit-job but a testimonial of his faith and of Catholic social teaching, a foundational element of the Catholic faith.

Tenets of Catholic social teaching include caring for the poor, standing in solidarity with those who struggle, and embracing the other. They are not just ideas in the purely theoretical sense but serve as practical guidelines for living everyday as a Catholic. This responsibility to live one's faith often gets lost in an environment where it’s easier to turn away; however, this represents a kind of complicity as well.

Howard Zinn, when referring to social action, racism, and our responsibility as citizens, said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” Or as Dr. Elisabeth Vasko says, in her book Beyond Apathy: A Theology for Bystanders: “To be a Christian is to take sides with those who are marginalized, dehumanized and subject to violence. Whether we like it or not, neutrality isn’t an option. In the face of violent activity, to hide behind the mirror of ignorance is to take sides with the powers that be.”

The same can be applied to the Catholic who stands aside as Muslims get banned, Dreamers get slandered, Immigrants get deported, the impoverished get left behind, and children get murdered in their schools.

As Franciscans we are called to be more than bystanders. When we see injustice we are called to action. Neutrality does not shield those Catholics in Congress or Catholics anywhere who would not stand for the poor, the dispossessed, and those who cannot stand for themselves. Neutrality for the Catholic concerning the dispossessed is a betrayal of the faith.

Those professed Catholics in Congress who talk about religion but fail to act on its core tenets betray a more pervasive kind of anti-Catholic bias that is often overlooked. It is pervasive because it comes from inside the faith.

“Catholics” like Paul Ryan provide a paradigm for another, more insidious type of Catholicism in which one can live in whatever way they choose, speak in whatever way they choose, and act towards others in whatever way they choose while maintaining the façade of Catholic identity.

The 13th century Franciscan theologian and doctor of the Catholic church St. Bonaventure tells us that how we choose and what we choose makes a difference — first in what we become by our choices and second what the world becomes by our choices.

Some people believe that as long as you repent hard enough and bury your head in the sand heaven will always be open. This type of anti-Catholicism has always been present but takes on special importance in today’s polarized political climate. Ryan’s actions and words toward Conroy speak volumes about his anti-Catholic Catholicism but so does his record as a congressman where he has spent his career making the rich richer at the expense of the poor and marginalized. This is exactly opposite what Jesus taught us and what St. Francis showed us by his life.

In Laudato Si Pope Francis tells us “many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change.” We cannot be Catholic and attend Mass on Sunday while promoting policies that hurt the most vulnerable. Both need to be considered when understanding the role faith should play in one’s life.

The power of the true Catholic voice was on full display once Conroy was forced out and we all saw to what effect. It is time we used that voice to call out those congressmen and lay people whose actions are antithetical to Catholic social teachings but identify as Catholics anyway. It is time we used that voice to help guide what is an otherwise toxic political, cultural, and economic climate towards a more inclusive, egalitarian, and loving society.

Pope Francis calls us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. He calls for us to rise up not in a revolution of guns but a revolution of Spirit. To stop living in a world where we are all separate and come together in a world of interbeing, a world where we are part of God’s creation not separate from creation.

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