Connelly: Lutheran Rep. Heck 'mad as hell' at firing of Jesuit House chaplain
The quiet, duplicitous firing of U.S. House of Representatives Chaplain, Jesuit priest Fr. Pat Conroy, a Washington state native, has left a Lutheran friend Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash., "mad as hell, and "devastated and enraged."
"For God's sake, literally and figuratively, we ought to be able to keep the people who tend to the spiritual needs of members and the institution out of the regular food fight: If that is not sacred, clearly nothing is," Heck wrote in Medium.
Fr. Conroy is a native of Washington's Snohomish County, took part of his education at Gonzaga University in Spokane -- Heck is a fanatical Bulldog basketball fan -- and stays with Heck when visiting this Washington.
"Father Pat is just an exceptional guy who like many Jesuits has multiple graduate degrees including a law degree," Heck wrote. "He's brilliant and plays a mean rock and roll guitar. I'm proud to call him friend. And I'm mad as hell because my friend was simply not treated fairly."
If you missed the movie "Twister," the twists and turns of explanation from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other House Republicans provides a good substitute.
In November, just before the House passed the GOP's tax cut plan, a bill providing billions in benefits to the rich, Fr. Conroy delivered an opening prayer on the House floor:
"As legislation on taxes continued to be debated this week and next, 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.
"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."
Shortly thereafter, according to an interview he gave The New York Times, Fr. Conroy was admonished by Ryan, a fellow Catholic, "Padre, you just got to stay out of politics."
At a House Republican meeting last week, however, Ryan said complaints over alleged shortcomings in Fr. Conroy's pastoral care led to his decision to request the chaplain's resignation.
The allegation infuriated Heck.
"In the five-plus years I've had the honor to serve in the House, I've never heard a single complaint about him," the congressman said of Fr. Conroy. "Not one. Instead, what I see him doing is gently roaming the chambers (both sides of the aisle) and sitting and listening.
"I see him at countless official retreats where he provides mass. And I know he makes himself available for informal counseling because I've been the beneficiary of it."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, in a statement, argued that Ryan acted arbitrarily and unilaterally in firing Fr. Conroy. "It is truly said that he made this decision, and it is especially bewildering that he did so only a matter of months before the end of his term."
The Republicans have seemed to pour salt into the wounds caused by the chaplain's firing.
There was an unctuous statement from the House Speaker's office, in which Ryan said: "Father Conroy has been a great source of strength and support to our community."
Then, Rep. Mark Walker, R-North Carolina, a Baptist minister, told The Hill that he hoped the next chaplain would be a family man with kids. He walked back the remark when even Republican Catholics such as Rep. Peter King of New York objected.
It was, said Heck, "akin to hanging out a 'Catholics need not apply' sign. Even several Catholic members of the majority were privately expressing their furor over the obviously discriminatory nature of this since Catholic priests don't marry and take a vow of celibacy."
"For all these reasons, I've been bouncing back and forth between tears and anger for the last few days," he added. "I kept it in for a few days but no more.
"I would plead that we step back from this bring but my heart tells me we have already gone over."