Sunday, May 08, 2011

Is New US House Chaplain Gay?
Media Omit Taxpayer Funding Info

In decades past, it was said that a good party rule was never to ask another guest about his religion or politics, to better keep the conservation friendly and light. Bringing up such topics might lead to disagreement and make conversation awkward, the last thing Miss Manners would support.

For Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, a Jesuit priest hailing from Portland, Oregon, those topics are exactly what I would want to discuss with him at a party, in addition to asking about his sexual orientation and be as pleasant as possible.

He was picked this week to become the 60th chaplain to the House of Representatives, and was selected in a show of bipartisan agreement by Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi who played a big part in choosing Conroy. Both Members are Catholics.

If we can freely discuss the politics and religion of Conroy in his capacity providing spiritual guidance to the House, we should also consider his sexuality and not view his orientation as off-limits. Let's cut to the chase. Photos of Conroy register slightly on my gaydar and I'd like to know if he's gay or not.

Googling for answers about his sexual orientation turned up nothing, same as the search for a paper trail shedding light on Conroy's views on gay concerns like marriage, adoption of children, the Vatican's intrinsic morally evil attacks on gay love and relationships, or gays in the priesthood. Nada.

None of the mainstream press in their coverage delved into those matters or any other political issues, a disappointment to me. Sad to say, the coverage of Conroy's appointment thus far has been a classic example of mainstream reporters not digging beyond the press release from Boehner's office. Readers deserve more than Conroy's pastoral resume and religious training info, as provided by the politicians.

Facts such as how much the chaplaincy pays, if the public funds Conroy's salary and the budget for his staff and operations were omitted by the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post here and here, Roll Call, the Oregonian and the Associated Press.

It took a bit of drilling down, but I eventually located details about the salary and related info from a document made public through WikiLeaks. Written by the Congressional Research Service, but not made publicly available by that taxpayer-funded service, the undated document CRS Report RS20427 explains a lot:

The Senate chaplain earns $146,600 a year, and the House chaplain earns $167,800 a year. Both work full time, although many previous chaplains maintains pulpits at local churches while serving Congress. The budgets for their office operations and staff are included in the annual legislative branch appropriation. ...

The period without chaplains lasted from 1857 to 1859, when questions were raised by citizens who objected to the employment in Congress and the military as a breach of the separation of church and state. ...

The constitutionality of the chaplains' prayers was upheld in 1983 by the Supreme Court (Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783) on the grounds of precedent and tradition. ...

Subsequently, on March 25, 2004, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, citing Marsh v. Chambers, dismissed a suit that challenged the congressional practice of paid chaplains as well as the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer.

A few points need addressing after digesting this document. It should not take drilling down to a WikiLeaks document to get the financial info, limited as it is. I still don't know what the annual budgets are for the chaplains or number of staffers. Let's keep challenging the need for such religious positions and spending any public dollars on the chaplains.

We should also keep tabs on the Congressional chaplains' web sites, which, to be blunt, stink. The House chaplain's site is the better of the two, but that isn't saying much when one can search the opening prayer archive only by date, however, there are pages devoted to explaining more about this office.

For the Senate chaplain, Rev. Barry C. Black, the site consists of a terse single page of scant info on the office and another page containing Black's biography.

If journalists in DC are in need of story ideas that no one else is covering, they could start watching the chaplains, peruse the daily prayers and other statements they make, and tell news consumers why the clerics are justified at the public's expense.

Given the dire economic times we live in and ruthless efforts to slash wasteful federal spending of taxpayer dollars, I suggest eliminating public funding of both chaplains and redirecting the funds to unemployed workers looking for jobs. I'd suggest this to my Representative, but considering it's Pelosi who helped engineered the installment of the latest unnecessary House chaplain, why bother.

Finally, I'd like the mainstream media to track down exactly how much federal funding flows to maintain the chaplains' operations. Tell the American public what we don't know from the gushing release Boehner and Pelosi put out. Follow the money MSM. And ask Conroy if he's gay. It's a question that should be posed.

(Photo: Conroy at a 2009 Jesuit conference held in San Jose, California. Credit: Jesuits in the U.S.)

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