|J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
(TPM reported on May 3 that Father Conroy has rescinded his resignation.)
As hostile acts go, it did not seem to be in the same league as Kim Jong-un reneging on a peace deal or Vladimir Putin ordering the poisoning of a defector spy, but for Republicans it was enough to send House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy packing.
It seems that in Republican eyes the right reverend had sinned when, in a prayer last November as the House took up the $1.5 trillion tax "reform" bill, he prayed for the bill's chief advocate, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and other lawmakers to "guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans."
Although it took awhile, Ryan has now fired Father Conroy because he prayed for the poor. And the hungry, the powerless, the jobless, the fearful, the disabled and the victims of prejudice.
Call Father Conroy's banishment from the temple of the Greatest Deliberative Body in the World what you want, but I call it a God Job. Because in one fell swoop, Republicans not only exposed themselves for the hypocritical thugs they are, but they laid bare the historic anti-Catholic bias shared by many Americans who do not look to Rome for spiritual guidance, the virulent anti-Catholicism that permeates the perverted belief system of Evangelical Christians (which is to say Republicans), while gifting Democrats a pungent is somewhat ephemeral issue on which to campaign this fall in Rust Belt election districts with substantial Catholic populations that voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
Meanwhile, there was a run on Shakespeare analogies, notably Thomas Becket's immortal words in the Bard's Henry II: "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?" which the king uttered just before a posse of his soldiers decapitated the politically vexsome archbishop of Canterbury.
Father Conroy, whose head has remained intact, said that Ryan told him shortly after his November homily, "Padre, you just got to stay out of politics." The right reverend did not get the message, and in subsequent months had the temerity to pray to God that lawmakers would:
Help "the least among us."
Follow the example of St.Nicholas, "who fed the hungry, brought hope to the imprisoned, gave comfort to the lost."
"Serve other people in their need."
"Pray for the unemployed and those who work but still struggle to make ends meet."
Work for "peace and reconciliation where those virtues are so sorely needed."
In dealing with immigration, "be mindful of those whom they represent who possess little or no power."
Be "free of all prejudice."
After the Parkland, Florida school shooting, to "fulfill the hopes of those who long for peace and security for their children."
And on Friday morning, in the well of the House for one of his last prayers before his banishment takes effect, Father Conroy prayed "for all people who have special needs" and "those who are sick" and for those "who serve in this House to be their best selves."
The first congressional chaplain, Jacob Duché, was appointed in 1774 by the newly formed Continental Congress to promote civil discourse on the legislative floor. The position has endured for the last 244 years as a nonpartisan tradition, and lawmakers have come to expect a chaplain's prayers at the start of each day's work.
Ryan, himself a Catholic, is almost as famous for unforced errors as the Big Guy (Donald Trump, not God), but he outdid himself in telling legislators who objected to Father Conroy's ouster after seven years of innocuous bead fingering that unspecified complaints about the fathers "pastoral care and not politics" led to his ouster.
It turns out this is not unfamiliar territory for Ryan.
Growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin, Ryan reportedly left the church where he had been baptized and had gone to grade school for a different parish across town when an outspoken and socially conscious priest took over. Later in life, of course, he ditched Jesus and his church's teachings altogether for Saint Ayn Rand.
Of 148 members of the House who signed a letter to Ryan demanding answers on why he ousted Father Conroy for praying for compassion, just one was a Republican.
Father Conroy was nonplussed.
"I've never been talked to about being political in seven years," he said. " If you are a hospital chaplain, you are going to pray about health. If you are a chaplain of Congress, you are going to pray about what Congress is doing."
The flap over who should be lawmakers' religious counselor exposed long-simmering tensions between Roman Catholics and Evangelical Christians, who slavishly support Trump despite his extramarital affairs and multitude of other sins.
(By my count, Trump has violated at least seven of the Ten Commandments, but then who's counting?)
Representative Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican, co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and a Baptist minister, helpfully brought the controversy to a boil in saying that he hoped the next chaplain of the House might come from a nondenominational church tradition "who could relate to members with wives and children."
Which would kind of rule out Catholic priests, let alone liberal Jesuits like Father Conroy.
"This will have ramifications," Jones speechified. "This is bigger than Father Conroy and the House of Representatives. This is about religion in America."
Despite the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, Jones, his fellow Republicans in general and Evangelicals in particular have been trying to ram religion down our throats for years in demanding that public school prayer be legalized, faith-based political action groups be tax exempt and employers be permitted to hide behind their religion in refusing to pay for employee benefits that include reproductive health care.
But for God's sake keep religion out of their own house . . . er, House.
The best spin I can put on the affair is that Ryan axed Father Conroy because of his pique over the general unpopularity of the tax bill beyond board rooms and country clubs. The House leader figures that Republicans are going to lose big in November, and heaven forbid that Democrats get to choose the next House chaplain.
After all, he might be a Muslim.