"Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:24)
I believe it was last Friday when I heard a very strange news story reported on television. I honestly don't remember which national news broadcast I was tuned into at the time, but it was reported that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had fired the Chaplain of the House of Representatives! It was also reported that in all the years they've had chaplains in the House, none of them have ever been fired. I must say the idea that the Chaplain of the House would be fired seemed most bizarre! Of course, I wondered what very serious offense could possibly have caused such an event to take place!
I'd honestly had no idea of the identity of the Chaplain of the House. It was reported that the person who'd been forced to resign was a Roman Catholic priest. His name is Father Patrick Conroy. Conroy states that after a pleasant seven years of serving in that position, a public prayer he prayed last autumn stirred things up quite a bit. If you do an on-line search, you can easily find more details about this, and you can read the exact words of the prayer, as well. The gist of the prayer is that Fr. Conroy hoped that whatever the results of pending legislation there would be only winners and no losers among the poor. The priest says he was confronted by the Speaker shortly after he uttered that prayer and was told that there had been complaints that his prayer was "too partisan". He believes that's the issue which led to his resignation being requested a couple of weeks ago. Speaker Ryan has told reporters that wasn't the case at all; that the real issue was that Fr. Conroy was not providing effective pastoral care to the members of the House.
During the first twenty-four hours after I heard this story reported, there were a number of posts which popped up on Facebook. Most were from Facebook friends of mine that tend to be "progressive" in their political and social views and tend to vote for Democrats. Father Conroy was portrayed as the epitome of a totally selfless man who'd lay down his life for the poor, while Speaker Ryan was portrayed as, well, at best Eddie Munster and at worst, Satan.
Now, don't get me wrong here! I had no problem with the words of Fr. Conroy's prayer. And, just to make sure I wasn't missing something, I "ran this by" a couple of my evangelical Protestant friends who also had no problem with the words of Fr. Conroy's prayer. I had strongly considered posting something very critical of Speaker Ryan, myself. I mean, we evangelicals (and Ryan's a Catholic, incidentally) are constantly saying we want more prayer, more Bible reading, more acknowledgement of God in public life, etc. So, even if Fr. Conroy is a liberal and had a political agenda in praying that prayer (and we don't know if that's the case) it would seem foolhardy to fire a chaplain for something like that, whether he's a priest, or a rabbi, or a Unitarian-Universalist minister, or whomever he or she is!
After thinking about it for a few days, I will admit that Speaker Ryan's stated reason for asking for the Chaplain's resignation seems very, very weak, but I really don't know the facts, and I doubt that the people posting about it on Facebook do either!
I guess what strikes me as ironic is that so many (but not all) of the people who came to the priest's defense were those who usually won't come to any clergyperson's defense! Somebody did post that James Madison back in the day very much did not want chaplains in Congress and that maybe this is proof that Madison was right. Maybe. Or maybe it's making some folks see that clergy who speak and pray with a prophetic voice- whether they're registered Republicans or Democrats, and whether they're liberals or conservatives - bring something very positive and very important "to the table" in a society where that moral and spiritual voice is typically not welcome.
Yes, the case of Paul Ryan and Fr. Patrick Conroy is indeed strange and it will be interesting to see who replaces the priest in the House, and whether the position of Chaplain comes to be considered of more significance and importance than has previously been the case!