Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Memo to Next House Chaplain: Gospel Optional

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Memo to Next House Chaplain: Gospel Optional

Article excerpt

Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?

- attributed to Henry II of England, 1170 A.D.

Unlike Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury who excommunicated several bishops loyal to King Henry II 848 years ago, former House Chaplain Father Patrick Conroy didn't earn the wrath of Speaker Paul Ryan by excommunicating Republicans.

Father Conroy earned the speaker's enmity the old-fashioned way - by taking the Gospel seriously enough to offer a prayer from the floor of the House of Representatives that sounded subversive and downright offensive to ears long trained on the siren call of Mammon.

During his prayer, Father Conroy sought to impose the most impossible of Gospel standards on the representatives of a "Christian nation" - by admonishing them to remember the poor along with orphans and widows in their distress.

Father Conroy's prayer last year came at a time when the Republicans were stitching together a regressive tax scheme that Jesus, and every other holy person that ever cared about people over profits, would have had all sorts of concerns about.

It was a prayer uttered at a time when Republicans were shifting the tax burden from the rich and placing responsibility for funding government squarely on the shoulders of those who occupied spaces far below them on the income ladder.

That's one possible reason why the first Jesuit priest to lead the House was fired last week. It was a move so clumsy and unprecedented that it immediately triggered bipartisan outrage and a failed push to assemble a select committee to investigate the circumstances of the dismissal.

On Friday, Mr. Ryan, the outgoing speaker, tried to assure his caucus and many critics that he, a practicing Catholic, did not fire Father Conroy in the middle of his term for calling upon the legislators to give serious thought to what Jesus would do.

Other reasons were offered for unceremoniously kicking Father Conroy to the curb: It was too difficult for potential House penitents to make appointments with him. He's not a dynamic preacher or speaker. He didn't give enough spiritual succor to those traumatized or wounded by a would-be assassin during a congressional baseball practice last year. …

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