Editor’s Note: As we were about to publish, we received the breaking news that Father Conroy had rescinded his resignation, and the Speaker has reinstated him. And Ryan thought he had difficulty with the Freedom Caucus? Since the ante’s been upped, perhaps now Ryan might abolish the office as Ayn Rand would recommend. What redemption will he seek? We will continue to follow this story.
One of the truly sweet things about being an editor is taking advantage of the privilege of expressing a personal opinion, a pet peeve about a topic. The reference here is to Speaker Paul Ryan’s firing of the House Chaplain, Father Patrick J. Conroy, a Catholic and member of the Jesuit order, the same as Pope Francis.
The headline refers metaphorically to a lame duck and lame brain, terms generally useful in politics, and does not for a second disparage any physical disability. Ryan, the lame duck, fired the House Chaplain, according to reports, because Conroy uttered some perceived criticism of the tax legislation in November 2017. In the worst light, the statement is wholly consistent with a long tradition of Catholic social thought and, perhaps, ideas held by many secular folk. Judge for yourself:
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.
To most ears, this message was carried by many members of the House in media interviews, whether or not true.
Ryan portrays himself as a pious and devout adherent of Catholicism, while extolling the philosophy of objectivism popularized by Ayn Rand. In turn, that doctrinal discipline argues for a rational self-interest and laissez faire capitalism, hallmarks of modern libertarianism and conservatism—not necessarily Republicans. Randian theory is antagonistic to Catholic social thought. It may be that this intellectual conflict, if it exists for him, caused Ryan to forgo the opportunity to abolish the Chaplain’s office altogether. To have done so would have been truly libertarian and consistent with Rand’s objectivism.
During his tenure as Chair of the House Budget Committee and, later, as Speaker, Ryan was pointedly taken to task by a number of critics within his faith who challenged his assertion that his economic policies were, in fact, rooted in Catholic social teaching. While on a few occasions Ryan has attempted to disavow his affinity for Ayn Rand, he substitutes as models Milton Friedman and the Chicago school of economics. Memorably, in an interview for the National Catholic Register [09/30/2014], Ryan stated:
I have invited libertarians to join the cause of protecting religious freedom because only then can we have a government that respects its limits.
In 2012, 90 faculty members of the Jesuit-run Georgetown University criticized Ryan’s budget policies, stating that he was “profoundly misreading church teaching” [National Catholic Reporter, 11/06/2015]. And when Pope Francis [11/26/2013] offered that “trickle down” theories were naïve and produced “an economy of exclusion and inequality,” Ryan scoffed that “The guy is from Argentina. They haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina. They have crony capitalism. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.” Ryan is also very proud that his knowledge of Catholic social thought is largely the product of self-study and virtually no exposure in an academic setting.
Upon his retirement, James Madison came to the conclusion that the existence of congressional chaplains was not consistent with the First Amendment and principles of religious freedom, especially since the office was as a rule a majority political appointment, subjecting a minority to a religious view.
Lame duck Ryan missed his chance to be a true champion of Ayn Rand and an originalist proponent of Constitutional jurisprudence. Similar to the argument of many right wing law channelers, there are no specific words in the Constitution to support the existence of congressional chaplains. Article I, Secs. 2 and 3 refer to the authority of the Congress to choose leaders “and other officers.”
In 1983, [Marsh v. Chambers, involving a Nebraska legislative chaplain] SCOTUS determined in a 6-3 decision that such office, funded at taxpayer expense, did not violate the First Amendment based upon the “unique history” of the ties between chaplaincies and legislatures. Thus, the court cited no Constitutional underpinning for the role, relying solely upon history, a tact similarly employed by Justice Antonin Scalia to justify an individual’s right to bear arms. Randians would agree with the minority opinion by Justice Warren Burger, that the majority ignored legal precedent and carved out an exception to the Establishment Clause.
Of course, no one should attempt to connect dots between the firing of the Jesuit chaplain and the high-octane exchange with the faculty of Jesuit-run Georgetown and a Jesuit Pope. It may have been as simple as the failure of Father Conroy’s pastoral skills in light of the sexual peccadilloes that humbled a number of Republican congressmen, including Farenthold, Franks, and Meehan.
At least it may be concluded that Lame Duck Speaker Paul Ryan has been consistent with his pervasive hypocrisy, political shallowness, and absence of courage. Perhaps upon retirement, he will read some of Madison’s works.