Opinion | Margery Eagan

Paul Ryan’s un-Christian agenda

House Speaker Paul Ryan backed down from the House chaplain fight.
Alex Edelman/Getty Images/File 2018
House Speaker Paul Ryan backed down from the House chaplain fight.

DONALD TRUMP has made it harder and harder for so-called Christian Republicans to trample Christian values and get away with it.

Now it’s House Speaker Paul Ryan’s turn.

What a gratifying development.


Last month two dozen Christian leaders issued a manifesto declaring that supporters of Trump’s policies against the poor and marginalized can’t claim to be Christians.

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Just days ago we learned that Ryan, a former altar boy who’s repeatedly claimed that Catholicism shapes his sacred views — no abortion, no Planned Parenthood, no gay marriage and no help for the “undeserving poor” — had quietly fired the House chaplain, a Jesuit priest.

Father Patrick Conroy’s major sin? Reportedly, praying for the poor. Tame stuff, really.

Solidarity with the poor is a typical emphasis for priests. In normal times, it’s government’s focus too. And Conroy didn’t even use the “p” word.

But apparently even an oblique reference got under Ryan’s skin when Conroy said this on the House floor in the midst of debate over Ryan’s beloved tax bill: “May (congressional) efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”


Unfortunately, benefits of the bill were neither balanced nor shared. They skewed heavily toward millionaires, billionaires and mega-corporations.

Soon after the prayer, Conroy said Ryan told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.” Conroy, with no cause cited, quietly got the ax last month. But when news circulated, uproar followed, and mounted. Accusations swirled: Ryan had caved to extreme GOP evangelicals sick of this pesky priest! Anti-Catholicism reigns in the House!

Order was restored Thursday when Conroy rescinded his resignation and the speaker, denying all, backed down. Conroy will stay until his term ends at year’s end.

But the Conroy fiasco is just the latest in a long line of seemingly un-Christian moves by Ryan, the self-proclaimed Catholic culture warrior who’s said his stands are required by his faith. Unfortunately for him, the president he supports embraces policies completely at odds with a faith that demands much more in the age of Pope Francis.

Trump calls climate change a hoax and has adopted the cruelest stance on refugees and immigrants in memory — both views at odds with Francis. Francis has repeatedly called out Catholic conservatives as he’s pushed his church away from Ryan’s brand of a narrow, nasty, shaming, and exclusionist Catholicism.


Trump, said Ryan, “made the right call” to try to end DACA, the program protecting from deportation the undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. “Reprehensible” and “heartbreaking,” said the US Conference of Catholic Bishops under Francis.

Ryan’s tax plan is “economic corruption,” said Simone Campbell in an interview. She’s the leading nun from Nuns on the Bus, which has spent years chastising Ryan for scorched-earth budgets and attacks on health care. “It all makes me want to weep, not that I have strong feelings about it,” she deadpanned.

The pope just delivered the worst blow yet to Catholic conservatives. Caring for migrants and “those already born, the destitute, the abandoned,” he said, is every bit as holy and sacred as opposing abortion.

In other words, mercy all around, for everyone, everywhere, from womb to tomb.

All this has plopped Ryan right next to the so-called Christians for Trump, the ones declared imposters by those two dozen Christian leaders and their manifesto.

What a gratifying development.

A final scene: this Easter, Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, Manhattan, a Jesuit parish. The Jesuit pastor’s rousing homily tells Catholics what they can’t support. Building walls. Giving tax breaks to billionaires. Gutting health care. Trashing planet earth. Trump’s agenda, basically, though he mentioned no name. Yet one name screamed out from the Mass program, atop the list of parishioners donating to the service: the Honorable Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, the president’s sister. She’d donated $2,500, more than anyone. Turns out she’s given millions to the very same Jesuits who disdain most every position that Ryan, those so-called Christian Republicans, and her baby brother push.

It just doesn’t get more gratifying than that.

Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”