A GOP leader of the House chaplain search committee wants only candidates with kids

Holding a rosary
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The House needs a new chaplain, after Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pushed out Fr. Patrick Conroy, and one of the Republicans leading the search committee, Rep. Mark Walker (N.C.), said Thursday that he wants a chaplain with a family — which would preclude Catholic priests like Conroy. "I'm looking for somebody who has a little age, that has adult children," said Walker, an ordained Southern Baptist minister.

Walker said he wasn't discriminating against Catholics, "but when you walk the journey of having a kid back home that's struggling or made some bad decisions, or when you have a separation situation or your wife's not understanding the [congressional] schedule, having somebody who's walked in those shoes allows you to immediately relate a little bit more than others." He added that he's "probably looking for somebody more of a nondenominational background, that has a multicultural congregation." Walker is leading the search committee with Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), a nondenominational ordained Baptist minister, and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), an Air Force Reserve chaplain and Southern Baptist.

The search committee's lone Democrat, Rep. Emauel Cleaver (Mo.) — a United Methodist pastor — said he was furious after Thursday's meeting and set up an appointment with Ryan. Some Catholic Democrats, like Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), called Walker's remark "anti-Catholic — on its face." Ruling out a chaplain from America's largest denomination may not have been what Walker meant, "but to any Catholic ears, that's what we heard," he said.

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When House Speaker John Bohner (R-Ohio) was stepping down, "he invited the pope to speak before the House," noted Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), and now that fellow Catholic Speaker Ryan is leaving, "he's asking only the second Catholic spiritual leader on the House floor to leave." The first Catholic House chaplain, Fr. Daniel Coughlin, was appointed in 2000 after Speaker Dennis Hastert's (R-Ill.) first choice, a Presbyterian minister, withdrew amid anger that Hastert had ignored the bipartisan committee's Catholic pick for chaplain, Fr. Timothy J. O'Brien.

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