Congress remains deeply unpopular, but might the U.S. Capitol also be demonic?
One might be forgiven for thinking so, especially after listening to Thursday’s opening prayer from House Chaplain Patrick Conroy, S.J.
“This has been a difficult and contentious week in which darker spirits seem to have been at play in the people’s house,” Father Conroy said, before closing his eyes and lifting his hands in prayer. “In your most holy name, I now cast out all spirits of darkness from this chamber, spirits not from you.”
House Chaplain Pat Conroy’s opening prayer: "This has been a difficult and contentious week in which darker spirits seem to have been at play in the people's house. In Your most holy name, I now cast out all spirits of darkness from this chamber, spirits not from You." pic.twitter.com/DleRYUtLWV— CSPAN (@cspan) July 18, 2019
As CNN noted, the prayer is reminiscent of a former version of the Catholic rite of exorcism, which Father Conroy said was the point.
“I was on the House floor on Tuesday,” Father Conroy told CNN, adding that “it felt different than other days. It felt like there was something going on beyond just political disagreement. The energy of the House was very off. No one was relishing what was happening.”
During the prayer, the Jesuit priest sought to “cast out the spirit of discouragement which deadens the hope of those who are of good will. I cast out the spirit of petty divisiveness which clouds the sense and the desire to be of fruitful productivity in addressing the issues more appropriately before this House. I cast out any sadness brought on by the frustration of dealing with matters detrimental to the honorable work each member has been called to engage in.”
Father Conroy asked God to “anoint your servants here in the House with a healing balm to comfort and renew the souls of all in this assembly.”
“May your spirit of wisdom and patience descend upon all so that any spirit of darkness might have no place in our midst. Rather, let your spirit of comity, of brother- and sisterhood, and love of our nation and of all colleagues in this chamber, empower our better angels to be at play in our common work to be done for the benefit of all your people,” he said.
This is not the first time Father Conroy’s prayers have made news. In April 2018, then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Catholic from Wisconsin, tried to fire the Jesuit from his post. Mr. Ryan said at the time that the firing was not political, instead prompted because he had received a number of complaints from members of Congress about Father Conroy’s performance.
But Father Conroy told the New York Times in 2018 that he was told by a congressional staffer that his prayers had become too political. With strong protestations from congressional Democrats over the firing, Father Conroy was allowed to keep his job and the Democratic-controlled House voted to reappoint him to the position in 2019.
The prayer came just hours before 70 Catholics, including several Catholic sisters and at least one Jesuit, were arrested inside the U.S. Capitol following a protest over how immigrant children are being treated at the U.S.-Mexico border. Tension over immigration has been high in recent months, and rhetoric rose to a new level this week after President Trump tweeted on July 14 that four members of Congress, all women of color, should “go back” to where they came from if they do not like the United States. Three of the lawmakers were born in the United States, and the fourth is a naturalized citizen. On July 16, the House of Representatives voted to condemn the president’s tweets, which is when, Father Conroy told CNN, he wrote the prayer.
Father Conroy told CNN that his prayer on Thursday morning was aimed at all members of Congress, not one particular side.
“You heard it. I wasn’t picking sides,” he said. “That’s ultimately the goal every day. I want every member of the House to be able to say ‘amen.’”