As Father Daniel Coughlin marks 10 years of ministry as the chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives, the Washington Post found an occasion to suggest to readers that Republicans who now praise the priest's service as the first-ever Catholic to hold the post have overcome a prejudice against the Catholic Church.
"In the beginning, there was partisanship," staff writer Ben Pershing began his April 27 article with a clever homage to the opening line of Genesis, but flash forward to last week and behold, "lawmakers from both parties streamed onto the House floor to honor [Coughlin's] of service."
Pershing explained to readers that back in 2000, another Catholic priest, Timothy J. O'Brien, "had more support on the [bipartisan chaplain search] committee" than Presbyterian minister Charles Wright, the candidate whom then-House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Ill.) picked to replace outgoing House chaplain, Rev. James Ford, a Lutheran.
"Democrats suggested that Hastert's choice might reflect an anti-Catholic bias among Republicans," Pershing noted, adding that a "furious" Hastert then "urged Wright to withdraw" and then named Father Coughlin, a priest who had not been among the finalists, as the new House chaplain.
But Pershing left out a more plausible and decidedly less sinister explanation for why Hastert picked Wright in the first place, something that Post staffer Bill Broadway noted in his February 19, 2000 article, "Holy War in the House" (excerpt below via Nexis, emphasis mine):
Hastert and [House Majority Leader Dick] Armey, both Evangelical Christians, voted for Wright, who has formed friendships with participants in a weekly prayer group composed largely of House Evangelicals. Members of the House prayer group and a similar group in the Senate sponsor the National Prayer Breakfast each February.
Broadway also noted that Hastert's press secretary, a Roman Catholic, emphatically denied that religious bias had anything to do with the pick (emphasis mine):
Democrats claim the speaker and majority leader did know about the recommendation but ignored it for political reasons, perhaps to please House Evangelicals by selecting a Protestant.
John Feehery, Hastert's press secretary and a Roman Catholic, said Hastert never asked the committee to rank the chaplain applicants. The speaker thought the order in which he received the names in talking with the committee co-chairs reflected their own preferences, not the choice of the full committee.
"There's nothing religious about it," Feehery said, charging Democrats with trying to recoup the losses of Catholics to the Republican Party. "It's all politics."
Photo Credit: Susan Walsh/Associated Press.