When Pope Francis spoke several years ago to the Congress of the United States, the core theme of his address was a call to consider the plight of the poor.
“How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost,” the pope declared. “At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem. It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth.”
To put a fine point on his message, the pontiff recalled an American advocate for the just distribution of wealth: the visionary militant Dorothy Day, who forged the Catholic Worker Movement. “In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints,” the pope told the assembled members of the US House and Senate, the cabinet, and the Supreme Court.
It was Dorothy Day who preached: “We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it.”
That was a message Paul Ryan heard but has frequently failed to embrace—not just in the Wall Street–friendly polices he has advanced but in his practices as speaker of the House.
After it was revealed this week that Ryan had ousted House chaplain Patrick Conroy—a highly regarded Jesuit priest who had served in the position for seven years—a firestorm arose over reports that the speaker had forced the pastor out because Father Conroy had been too pointed in raising the issue of poverty.
Numerous sources on Capitol Hill suggested that the chaplain was forced to resign at least in part because of a November prayer—delivered as the House was considering a tax bill that overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy—in which he urged members to “be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle.”