WASHINGTON (AP) -- For the first time, a Roman Catholic priest now holds the title of House chaplain, ending a fractious selection process that embroiled the Republican Party in allegations it was biased against Catholics.
Speaker Dennis Hastert on Thursday named the Rev. Daniel Coughlin, the vicar for priests in the Chicago archdiocese, as chaplain.Hastert and Republicans have been under fire since late last year when they announced the selection of the Rev. Charles Wright, a Presbyterian minister, for the position.
Democrats insisted that a Catholic priest, the Rev. Timothy O'Brien, was the top choice of a bipartisan selection committee. Hastert has maintained he was unaware of any ranking.
For four months, the issue raged as some Democrats and Roman Catholics fired charges of an anti-Catholic bias. GOP strategists fretted about the impact of such allegations, particularly given that Catholics make up more than 25 percent of the electorate.
In ending the controversy, Hastert accused Democrats of playing an "unseemly political game" by claiming religious bias.
"I am a patient man," said the Illinois Republican, who took office 15 months ago with a pledge to lower the level of acrimony in the House. "But even I did not easily take in stride carelessly tossed accusations of bigotry."
The Rev. Coughlin's appointment seemed to quiet the brouhaha for the time being. He won bipartisan applause on the House floor, a sharp contrast to the partisan struggle that prompted Wright to withdraw Tuesday.
The Rev. Coughlin, who flew to Washington on Thursday and was quickly sworn in, called his appointment "terribly unexpected."
William Donohue, president of the 350,000-member Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said the group had been "dismayed by the way Republicans handled this matter" but "we have no interest in fighting this fight any longer and we commend House Speaker Dennis Hastert for bringing this chapter to an end."