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Having survived a raucous initiation to his new job on Capitol Hill, the first Roman Catholic to serve as chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives says he is counting on the power of prayer to help bring about change in the nation's capital. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) appointed Daniel P. Coughlin, the vicar for priests in the Chicago archdiocese, to the position in March, after an ugly partisan brawl. Charges of anti-Catholic bias erupted last fall when Hastert, after consulting House leaders, decided to appoint Presbyterian Charles Parker Wright instead of Timothy J. O'Brien, a Catholic priest who had received the most votes from a bipartisan congressional search committee (CT, April 3, p. 22). Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), vice chairman of the search panel, told CT that while he "never thought there was an anti-Catholic prejudice," he faults Hastert for failing to use the bipartisan selection process. "At the end of the day, they walked away from a bipartisan consensus," says Pomeroy, who has introduced legislation that would require unanimous approval of the chaplain by the speaker and the majority and minority leaders.Hastert defends his decision, saying that Wright was chosen for his "pastor's heart," not his religious doctrine. But he says Wright's selection was derailed by members who "were trying to take political advantage out of what was essentially a spiritual decision.""[In] all of my years in this Congress, I have never seen a more cynical and more destructive political campaign," Hastert said while announcing Coughlin's appointment in a surprise speech March 23 on the House floor. "That such a campaign should be waged in connection with the selection of the House chaplain brings shame on this ...

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May 22, 2000

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