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As a Catholic, I can’t really blame Paul Ryan for giving Fr Patrick Conroy the boot

Like all stereotypes, the “sneaky Jesuit” is truer than not. And as a practicing Catholic, I’m grateful to the Society of Jesus for its work refining the art of equivocation. It’s gotten me out of several difficult conversations with housemates without outright lying, such as: “Who drank the last of the Maker’s Mark?” Not me! (It wasn’t the last, after all. There are thousands more bottles all over the world.)

So, defenders of the Jesuit priest Patrick Conroy aren’t wrong when they condemn Speaker Paul Ryan, who recently dismissed the Congressional chaplain for being “too political”.

For example, when Conroy asked that legislators to “be mindful of those whom they represent who possess little or no power” following a debate on illegal immigration, he wasn’t necessarily endorsing amnesty. Sure: it sounds like he counts illegals among those who, by virtue of their citizenship, are entitled to congressional representation. But maybe he wasn’t talking about immigration at all. Maybe he was talking about other powerless minorities, like babies or the comatose.

The thing about being Jesuitical, though, is that it doesn’t work when you dissimulate about the same thing all the time. Jesuits such as Fathers Conroy, James Martin, and Antonio Spadaro have worked hard to develop a reputation as the vanguard of liberal Catholicism. We should be astonished if Conroy belonged to that half a percent of Jesuits who aren’t dyed-in-the-wool progressives.

That’s why I can’t really blame Ryan for giving him the boot. The chaplain is nominated by the Speaker, confirmed by the Representatives, and serves at the ruling party’s pleasure. Surely it didn’t please the Republican Speaker and Republican-controlled House to be served by a Democratic pastor.

What concerns me is a statement made by Representative Mark Walker following Conroy’s ouster. Of the next chaplain, the Republican from North Carolina said: “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 would automatically exclude almost all Catholic priests, who are bound by the law of celibacy. But I’m sure Walker would deny the anti-Catholic implications of his remark, so I’m going to call his bluff. He should recommend a priest of the Ordinariate: an Anglican minister with a wife and kids who has been re-ordained in the Roman Church.

I recommend the priest-blogger Fr Dwight Longenecker, who’s consistently critical of both Republicans and Democrats. That should please everyone who isn’t a blind partisan or a sectarian bigot.

What say you, Congressman?

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