Holy Mary, Mother of God! What on Earth is Paul Ryan trying to prove?
That a Catholic priest can’t minister to people with families? That God-fearing politicians shouldn’t look out for the poor? The outgoing Speaker sure has raised some dicey questions by abruptly dismissing the chaplain of the House.
Ryan has been notably vague on why exactly he canned Father Patrick Conroy, a well-regarded Jesuit priest who’d ministered to the spiritual needs of Congress for the past seven years. But this much is clear: Some of Ryan’s more conservative members took offense at Father Conroy’s prayer last November as the House was considering a massive tax cut that critics called a gift to wealthy individuals and big corporations. During his morning invocation, the Catholic chaplain beseeched the lawmakers to make sure "there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans."
Boilerplate Christianity, right? No, that’s not how some of Ryan’s members took the priest’s words.
They accused him of being overly political. Others seemed to find Father Conroy too Catholic, even jabbing at his vow of priestly celibacy. “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,” said North Carolina Congressman Mark Walker, a Southern Baptist minister who co-chairs the House Prayer Caucus and is helping to choose Conroy’s replacement.
No Roman collars, in other words.
The continuing uproar has left Ryan, himself a devout Catholic, in an uncomfortable and self-created squeeze. A Catholic chaplain is under assault for teaching Christ’s message and following the rules of his church. What exactly should a congressional chaplain do if not speak up for the poor? Pray for the further enrichment of the Koch brothers and the expanding influence of the NRA?
Ryan could have ignored the anti-Catholic bigots or pushed back on them. Instead, he delivered the Thomas Aquinas treatment to Father Conroy.
They don’t use guillotines in Washington. They have other ways.
Metro columnist Ellis Henican is the best-selling author of a dozen books including “Trumpitude: The Secret Confessions of Donald’s Brain.” Join Ellis on Twitter @henican.