The Reverend Daniel Coughlin has been appointed chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, the first Catholic priest to serve in that position. Father Coughlin’s appointment comes after months of bitter controversy following House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) decision to choose Charles Parker Wright, a Presbyterian minister, over another Catholic priest, the Reverend Timothy O’Brien. That initial decision made Hastert vulnerable to charges of anti-Catholicism, especially after George Bush’s visit to Bob Jones University raised the specter of anti-Catholicism as an issue in the presidential race. Coughlin’s appointment, after the gracious withdrawal of Reverend Wright, is an obvious effort by the Republicans to stanch the political bleeding.

There is no evidence that anti-Catholicism played a role in Hastert’s rejection of Father O’Brien, but that did not stop Democrats from exploiting the issue or William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights from jumping into the fray feet first. When it comes to "defending the faith," the Catholic League usually shoots first and asks questions later. This time Catholic conservatives who have celebrated Donohue’s tactics when employed against liberal targets took umbrage at his broadsides against Hastert. Evidently, the House chaplain fiasco threatened to undermine the political coalition being built between religiously conservative...

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