Leftist House Chaplain keeps job, as Ryan backs down

When Speaker Paul Ryan fired Rev. Patrick Conway from his job as Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, critics of the decision argued that Ryan made the decision because Conway is Catholic. Conway himself reportedly took that position in a complaint against the Speaker’s office.

The claim is absurd. Ryan himself is Catholic.

A more plausible charge is that Ryan fired Conway because of his theology. Conway is a social justice warrior. Indeed, Rep. Gerald Connolly, one of Conway’s main supporter, described him as a close follower of Pope Francis who is willing to tangle with lawmakers on political issues.

Ryan denies that Conway’s left-wing theology (ideology, really) motivated the decision to discharge him. Ryan says the decision was based on complaints from members about Conway’s pastoral care.

But Conway’s ideology and willingness to tangle with lawmakers on political issues justify his firing. The House Chaplain should not be an ideological partisan.

That Conway’s ideology may be rooted in the teachings of Pope Francis makes no difference. Imagine a House Chaplain whose socially conservative views are rooted in the traditional teachings of his denomination. If he expressed his social conservatism, say opposition to gay marriage, in his capacity as Chaplain, Democrats wouldn’t hesitate to call for his discharge — and they would be right.

Conway, in his private capacity, can favor whatever distribution of income appeals to him. But when he injects his redistributionist preference into a prayer about tax law, as he did last November, he shows himself unfit to serve the House of Representatives, a bipartisan body. Ryan should have fired him back then.

I should add that Conway’s ideological bent can bear on his ability to deliver quality pastoral care to all House members. Some conservatives might not feel comfortable confiding in a leftist pastor, just as some liberals might not feel comfortable with a socially conservative one. But even if that’s not the case, the House Chaplain should stay out of policy debates.

Ryan has backed down, though. He reinstated Conway.

It strikes as emblematic of Paul Ryan’s disappointing tenure as Speaker that he could not execute his sensible decision to fire Conway.