There is a huge hullabaloo brewing on Capitol Hill over the resignation of the House chaplain, Father Pat Conroy, who claimed he was forced to resign by Speaker Paul Ryan. Democrats are outraged by Ryan's unprecedented decision, and believe it was because the Jesuit priest criticized the GOP tax plan in a House prayer in November saying that it should not create “winners and losers.”
While Republicans are denying this, according Conroy, who spoke to the New York Times, he was directly confronted by Ryan about supposedly politicizing his prayers:
Though Father Conroy said he did not know whether politics were behind his departure, he pointed to a prayer he had given on the House floor in November, when Congress was debating tax overhaul legislation.
“May all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle,” he prayed. “May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”
About a week later, Father Conroy said, he heard from the speaker’s office. “A staffer came down and said, We are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political,” he said. “It suggests to me that there are members who have talked to him about being upset with that prayer.”
Shortly after, when he saw Mr. Ryan himself, Father Conroy said that the speaker told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”
“That is what I have tried to do for seven years,” Father Conroy said. “It doesn’t sound political to me.”
“If you are hospital chaplain, you are going to pray about health,” he added. “If you are a chaplain of Congress, you are going to pray about what Congress is doing.”
The reasoning coming from Ryan and other Republicans is confusing to say the least, particularly given many Republicans are angered by the decision themselves. Reported CNN:
New York Republican Rep. Pete King, who said afterward that Ryan's explanation for asking the Rev. Pat Conroy, a Jesuit priest, to resign was "unsatisfactory." Both King and Ryan are Catholic.
"To me it was an unsatisfactory answer," King said. "It is such an unprecedented action to be to only be taken for very, very serious issues. And the speaker said it was just because certain people said he was not complying with their request or was not giving good counsel. I never heard that from anyone. Anyone who I know who deals with him has the highest regard for him."
The report continued:
When asked what reasons Ryan gave in the caucus meeting for why the chaplain was fired, GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn was at a total loss for words.
"I was -- I'm not the best one to answer that because I was talking to some people on the side about personal issue during that moment that we were talking about -- but I agree with it," he responded, after pausing for five minutes searching for words.
King lamented that at the end of the day Ryan did not give "real specific issues" that led to his firing -- beyond saying there were some "complaints from some of the members about lack of the chaplain's service."
Rep. Mark Sanford, who was in the meeting and has been selected to help choose the new chaplain, told CNN that Ryan said it was "based on the input of some members" who had not been satisfied with the chaplain -- but did not or would elaborate.
While we don't know whether Ryan fired Father Conroy because he brought up the devastating effects the GOP tax plan would have on the poor, the theory is by far the best one we have. Conroy was a popular figure in both parties, so Ryan decision to fire him for no apparent reason in the months after he criticized the GOP's truly insane tax cut designed explicitly to benefit billionaires and giant corporations isn't hard to figure out. Ryan's entire political career has been about one thing, and one thing only: cutting taxes for rich people and smashing the welfare state in the process. His belief in free market economics goes beyond ideology -- it is religious fervor only seen in the most crazed of zealots. For Ryan, markets trump everything, including God.
"I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault," Ryan once said of his childhood hero.
"Ayn Rand more than anyone else did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism, and this to me is what matters most.”
Attacks on capitalism is to Ryan, an attack on the very fabric of what he believes reality to be -- without free markets, there is no freedom, no individualism, and more importantly, no one to pay for his political career.
Of course we will never really know the truth given Ryan's word is about as reliable as Donald Trump's memory, but it's safe to say it wasn't anything to do with "the input from some members" and complaints "about lack of the chaplain's service." Conroy may have been a man of God, but he attacked something sacred to Ryan: rich people's money. And Ryan simply could not stand for that.