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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Update: Chaplain controversy

Some Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives viewed the appointment of a Presbyterian minister to succeed House chaplain James D. Ford, an ELCA pastor, as a sign of anti-Catholic sentiment among House leaders. John Dingell, D-Mich., asked for the release of records pertaining to the selection.

Timothy O'Brien, a Roman Catholic priest, was a bipartisan selection committee's first choice. Yet the three top House leaders made the final selection, voting 2-1 to put Presbyterian Charles Wright, the third choice, in the post.

In December, Ford told Lynn Neary of National Public Radio that the full House was to vote on the nomination Jan. 27. At presstime, results of that vote were not yet known.

Ford said, "Most of [the chaplain's] time is spent talking to people about their concerns. They know we don't tell stories out of class, and they'll tell you their story. You can help people see their purpose in life, their mission in life, where they find their values."

A spokesperson for Dick Armey of Texas said the Republican majority leader favored Wright because "he was looking for [someone] who the members were going to feel most comfortable with."

But William Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said, "To say that most members of the House would be more comfortable with a Protestant minister than with a Catholic priest ... is to say that Catholic priests need not apply for the post."

In the 210-year history of the post, the House has never chosen a Catholic as chaplain.


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