House Chaplain Hopes to Mend Party Bickering

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CAPITOL HILL - The pressure on lawmakers in Washington has led to many disagreements and endless gridlock.

Because of that, Congress' approval rating is at a historic low -- just 10 percent according to one poll.

As the new chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, Father Patrick Conroy hopes to give Capitol Hill a makeover not by focusing on policy, but on matters of the heart and soul.

"I've been told by a number of the members that this is the most contentious Congress has been in their memory," Conroy said.

For frustrated Americans, the political strife among politicians in public office is an embarrassment and symbolic of dysfunctional government.

Conroy is the 60th House chaplain. His most visible duty is starting off each new legislative day with a prayer in front of the House chamber.

For a man of a faith whose chief concern supercedes politics, the last couple months on the job have been a revelation.

"I was taken a little bit by surprise at my own reaction to the debate," Conroy said of the lawmakers he now interacts with.

Father Conroy characterized the discord during the debt debate as heated and accusatory.

"The Democrats just want to kill jobs and the Republicans just want to protect millionaires," he said.

Conroy added that the attacks weren't necessarily personal, but rather ideological. And that's where he thinks he can make a difference.

As a former high school teacher and college campus minister, his preference is to be a man among the people.

So, he's made it his practice to get out of the office, mingle with members and the constituents they serve, and be in the chamber when those heated words are hurled.

"To be on the floor when they're saying these things is part of what will make it possible for me to have a more meaningful ministry," Conroy explained.

He hopes to be a bridge, connecting polar opposites along the political spectrum and reminding them of their common love for country.

"I don't know if it's even possible," he said. "But it is one of the things that ... I would hope to be able to do."

"That I could be the mutual friend or the mutual person that they're comfortable with," Conroy added. "So that they can begin to be more comfortable with one other."

*Original broadcast August 17, 2011.

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