Service of Family: No Marriage, No Children=No Family & Unfit to Serve?

May 3rd, 2018

Categories: Automobiles, Children, Families, Insurance, Politics, Prayer, Religion, Sales, Security

I was at an auto dealership in upstate New York last weekend speaking with an insurance company customer service rep. Our salesman was arranging for the transfer of our insurance to a new car and when done, he passed me the phone.

After “Hello”—I’d expected a quick “confirming that you’re Jeanne Byington leasing a car,”–but instead the rep bombarded me with questions starting with “What’s your PIN number?” I panicked, looked at my husband and we spat out a few options. The rep interrupted me and then asked, “What is the name of your child?” I answered: “I don’t have one.” He said, “You have to call back. I’ve been logged out.” Click.

So we called back, this time logging in with a PIN number, which worked thank goodness, and we reached a pleasant woman who took the information she needed from the salesman and she then asked me: “What’s your child’s birthday and year of birth?” I told her I don’t have children, but decided to share the birth info of my stepdaughter to move things along. That was the right answer. The company, its staff or computer had assumed that everyone has a kid and that my husband’s daughter–he uses the same company for a range of services—was also mine.

I immediately thought of a comment I read on Twitter by author Father James Martin, @JamesMartinSJ,  regarding the replacement of the fired House of Representatives Chaplain Father Patrick J. Conroy: “The idea that a priest can’t be House chaplain because he’s not a ‘family man’ is absurd and borderline anti-Catholic. Priests have families: mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews. Also, by that yardstick, Jesus Christ wouldn’t qualify.”

He was responding to a remark by Mark Walker, a Republican representative from North Carolina who is on a committee to find a new chaplain. According to The Hill, Walker said: “I’m looking for somebody who has a little age, that has adult children, that kind of can connect with the bulk of the body here, Republicans and Democrats who are going through, back home the wife, the family—that has some counseling experience…”

I take Walker’s comment a step beyond religion: Is Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor unable to do her job appropriately because she never married nor had children yet her judgments impact citizens?

Nobody knows for sure why the Chaplain was fired. According to America Magazine’s Michael J. O’Loughlin who wrote “House Republicans rebuff investigation into firing of Jesuit chaplain,” New York Representative Joe Crowley noted that “Mr. Ryan and other Republican members of Congress were unhappy with the chaplain for delivering a prayer in November they viewed as partisan.” Father Conroy reported to The New York Times that after he offered the prayer on taxes, Mr. Ryan told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”  While the Republican tax bill was on the table Father Conroy had urged the planners not to create “winners and losers.”

O’Loughlin wrote that “Mr. Ryan told Republican colleagues on Friday that some lawmakers felt Father Conroy was not providing appropriate pastoral care to House members.” I heard Representative Peter King from Long Island, NY disagree on TV news with this allegation.

So why did it take the House seven years to react if this was so? In his work as pastor at numerous churches as well as chaplain at Georgetown and Seattle Universities, for how many people had he provided pastoral care without complaint?

In a subsequent interview with Walker, Scott Wong reported in The Hill in “Conservative leader: Next House chaplain should have a family” that the congressman said “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 related a little bit more than others.”

To be effective, must a grade school teacher have children; a female psychiatrist counsel women exclusively, or an obstetrician be female? Is an unmarried man or woman or a couple with no children, regardless of religion, without family? Is a doctor who doesn’t suffer from his/her specialty unqualified to treat that disease? Are there certain jobs unmarried or childless people are ill-equipped to have?

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15 Responses to “Service of Family: No Marriage, No Children=No Family & Unfit to Serve?”

  1. ASK Said:

    Father Martin’s comments make perfect sense, but these days, common sense from our elected officials, college administrators, and Twitterers, among others, is in relatively short supply.

  2. David Reich Said:

    I agree with Fr. Martin.

    But you say above, “Nobody knows for sure why the Chaplain was fired.”

    We know, and it’s obvious. The Chaplain, in a prayer, made a plea for equality and fairness in the tax laws, and that’s not what the Republican tax law changes were about. So because he went against the Party line, Ryan fired him.

    Disgusting, but unfortunately, we’re getting used to “disgusting.”

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I quake at the number of lives that are ruined by extremists of any bent who lose site of the ramifications of their words.

    You mention common sense. Priests like Father Conroy, who have served as parish pastors, have heard and seen it all, and as a result, many make remarkable counselors. Some people need to put their hand in flame and others can see that it’s not a good idea based on the reactions and repercussions for those with burns. Representative Walker may not have thought of that.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The conservative party line is that there is no official reason…and yet in truth, there’s the reason Father Martin, you and Father Conroy jumped on as well as the “complaint” that Father Conroy “was not providing appropriate pastoral care to House members.”

    While some consider the ouster anti-Catholic, which it may well be, had Father Conroy given a namby-pamby prayer I posit he’d still be Chaplain.

    The dangerous aspect to all of this is that people who don’t tow the line and/or those who don’t fit what is considered normal are OUT. Sound familiar?

  5. Anonymous Said:

    So they fired the chaplain because he doesn’t have secular life experience? So how can he counsel folks about their problems?

    Kinda silly.

  6. Martha Takayama Said:

    I think that we may have collectively lost our minds. How can these ridiculous notions of what constitutes a family unit prevailand be used as determining factors by anybody!. Why should any of this enter into any gathering or preserving of information outside of one’s private life or a census.

    My Japanese husband was asked today for security reasons to ascertain identity “What was the name of your first stuffed animal?” He didn’t know what the man from the government registry for business affiliation was referring to! It was straight out of a satire. I am not sure that all children even here have stuffed animals, and think they may have been terribly scarce or non-existent in Post-War Japan!

    What is even more absurd is to try to cover a nauseatingly shabby political faux pas or scandal with absurd prejudiced notions as to what civil status or number of officially recognized off-springs mean in evaluating someone’s ability to be a religious leader, spritiual counselor, doctor, or just about any other position. When will our “Theater of the Absurd”come to an end?

  7. Kathleen Said:

    I agree with all your comments. I think Fr. Martin, SJ, is editor-in-chief of America, a leading Jesuit magazine, so he speaks with some authority. Also I think Judge Sotomayor was married when she was young but divorced. She and her husband never had children.

    Isn’t there a petition being circulated in Congress to reinstate Fr. Conroy?

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Wow Kathleen–I missed that! You are an eagle-eye.

    Just looked up the story on CNN. Here’s the lead. “Lawmakers from both parties are lobbying House Speaker Paul Ryan to take steps to rescind his request that the House chaplain resign, a week after news of the Wisconsin Republican’s call for the Rev. Pat Conroy to step down became public.

    “Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina asked Ryan to reinstate Conroy, saying in a letter he believes the way the House chaplain was let go reflected ‘poorly on the House’ and appears ‘intentionally underhanded.'” for the rest of the story.

    I know Father Martin through The Christophers. He IS a Jesuit priest, a remarkable writer/author and currently editor-at-large at America Magazine. He’s also a lovely man. When we send him a press release about Christopher Award winners, as busy as he is, he is always the first to respond.

    I stand corrected re. Judge Sotomayor. She was married to her high school sweetheart. So she was a bad example, except she still wouldn’t qualify as she didn’t have children which seemed to be one of the hang-ups with critics of Father Conroy.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a question to ask anyone! First stuffed animal? My first stuffed anything wasn’t an animal, but Sleepyhead. I loved her so. I first left for overnight camp at 5 and she came with me. I wonder if the man from the government registry would count her as an “animal?”

    I wish I could predict when the “Theater of the Absurd” will end. Every time I think “This is IT!!!!” apologists shrug as though the latest step backward or untruth is “no biggie.” What will be big enough to stop the nastiness, craziness, and mean-spiritedness is anyone’s guess.

  10. Hank Goldman Said:

    Father Patrick deserves better… What’s the difference what you are, if you are properly trained in your craft that’s all you need to go on and teach it!!!

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m with you! I’ll go a step further, harking back to the common sense remark that ASK referred to in the first comment here. I’ve told countless students that I’ve mentored how common sense will help them go far and not to discount it. The moves made at highest levels these days in addition to being harsh and oblivious of the impact of actions on the lives of disadvantaged people, are often lacking common sense.

  12. Protius Said:

    Once again, I refer you to David Hackett Fischer’s 1989 landmark, “Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America.” We think of the current socio/political conflict in this country as being between liberals and conservatives, but it is really more the continuation of a struggle for dominance between cultural heritages which date back to 16th century England and before.

    On one hand, you have a loose knit alliance between the land/power holding elite, whether of cavalier or puritan origin, from which our early presidents such as Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison derived their ancestry, or the Presbyterian/fundamentalist Scots/Irish 18th century migrants from whom later populist inclined presidents such as Jackson, and later, Carter, Reagan and now Trump, derive theirs.

    Speaker Ryan may be Catholic, but his political instincts would definitely include misgivings about feminism, family and the open minded tendencies of a Father Martin and his Jesuit Chaplin. He clearly falls cleanly into the latter Scots/Irish heritage.

    I find it fascinating that, despite the reality that due to demographic changes less than 20% of our population is now of English origin, the divisions between us still tend to break along cultural lines of English origin going back hundreds of years.

    We do tend to cling to the past.

  13. Jeanne Byington Said:


    So the followers of Paul Ryan and the president fall in the Scots-Irish camp too? So many are poor and not land-holding, suffering from the decisions of these leaders and duped by their rhetoric.

    I find it hard to see Carter in the same sentence as Reagan and Trump much less in any way culturally similar. He continues in his 90s to be charitable, the opposite of ostentatious and selfless.

    I will have to digest your comment for a while. I seem to fall in neither category as I’m part of the 80 percent of the population with no English origin, neither puritan nor fundamentalist Scots-Irish in inclination. Hmmmm.

    In addition, I feel like a person in one of those snow globes. The snow, representing the decency and charity that many leaders once espoused, is swirling fiercely around, being shaken violently by the current crew in charge who are trying to replace a feeling of stability and control with deliberate chaos. They might even crack or break the globe. And then where will we be? I don’t generally cling to the past but in this sense, I miss it.

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:

    I was thrilled to read in The Wall Street Journal on May 4 that Father Conroy rescinded his resignation!

    According to CNN, “‘I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as chaplain of the House,’ [Paul] Ryan said in a statement.”

  15. Lucrezia Said:

    Unless separation of Church and State becomes law of the land, dangerous nonsense will continue. Anyone contemplating a criticism of the Middle East should realize that we are every bit as backward.

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