Monday, January 09, 2006

"A Chicago Priest with a Tucson Patina"

It was a sad couple of days here. Thursday was the wake and funeral mass for Ed Ryle in Tucson and Sunday was the memorial service for Lorraine Weiss Frank at ASU. I sat next to former Congressman Jim McNulty at the Ryle wake--if I'm at a wake, you bet I want to sit next to Jim McNulty--and he reminded me that while it's sad to go to these things, if you stop going it means it's your turn, so it's probably all for the best. Both Ed and Lorraine will be missed, but I figure the best way to miss them is to emulate them.

If you want to see the newspaper version of this column, it's here. Social justice? Who knew? (especially when today's news is that the Phoenix bishop is campaigning against all forms of birth control.) I had a comment, but in Ed' s memory I'll withhold it.

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 8, 2006

Instead of obsessing about convicted former GOP ├╝ber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, let’s remember Monsignor Edward Ryle, who died Dec. 28 and whose life was celebrated with a wake and Mass in Tucson this past Thursday. There are many different ways to participate in politics not involving either crime or celibacy. But while Abramoff talked a lot about his religion, Ed Ryle lived his -- and convinced others to live theirs as well.

Monsignor Ryle was a man of boundless optimism and goodwill. For 20 years, he served as executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, the umbrella organization representing the Church at the Arizona Legislature. We didn’t agree on several issues, but Ed Ryle had a talent for convincing you that your agreements mattered far, far more than any disagreements. Maybe differences on “minor” issues like abortion, school vouchers, and stem cell research would trouble less open-hearted people, but not Ryle.

At our office, we kept a bottle of his favorite scotch, hoping to tempt him to drop by for a chat at the end of a long week. It was a budget scotch, one that he learned to appreciate (tolerate?) while in seminary, but he never saw any reason to change brands, in either whiskey or social justice.

I’m not the only one whom you might be surprised to learn idolized Ed Ryle. Mary K. Reinhart’s article in last Friday's Tribune featured testimonials from Paul Martodam, CEO of Catholic Social Service of Central and Northern Arizona, Carol Kamin of Children’s Action Alliance, and Gov. Janet Napolitano -- three people whom I hope get quoted in my obituary. The Arizona Republic’s article also quoted Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas (Ryle’s home diocese) and Martodam, then only members of my side: Kamin; Cathy Eden, former director of the state Department of Health Services; Napolitano; Joe Anderson, a former cabinet official with Gov. Bruce Babbitt; state Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix; and Eddie Basha. Ryle was known as “the conscience of the legislature,” so maybe during the holidays it was too difficult to track down a Republican with a conscience.

Ryle truly believed in life as a “seamless garment.” Yes, he fought to restrict abortion, but also against the death penalty in the same quiet, friendly, and incredibly persistent manner. Without being preachy, he softly urged society to do more to aid those in need. He saw government as a tool; one that would never replace faith, but one that could help create a better world, with healing for the sick, care for the troubled, education for the young, and security for the old. It sounded a lot like what Jesus preached in the Gospels, so of course it was a political loser, but Ryle never lost his humor, purpose, or faith.

Ed Ryle never seemed to get much of his agenda through the legislature, unlike Jack Abramoff, who could get his GOP buddies to give his clients government contracts, statements in the Congressional Record, letters of support, earmarks, or even block widely-supported bills. Of course, business clients are willing to pay far more for government largesse than Ed Ryle could bring to the statehouse, and to many the “seamless garment” was never more than rhetoric, while the GOP’s “K Street Project” was a real and serious operation backed by real and serious clout, money, and greed.

But while being in politics doesn’t require either being a crook or staying celibate, politicians do need to make a choice whether they want to stand with guys like Jack Abramoff or guys like Ed Ryle. It’s a choice worth examining. Googling “Hayworth + Abramoff” yields over 29,000 hits, while “Hayworth + Ryle” gets about 600, and a lot are about actress Rita Hayworth.

You can make that same choice, too. There’s a fund in Ed Ryle’s memory, administered by the Catholic Community Foundation of Phoenix, supporting social justice projects and an annual speakers series. To contribute, call (602) 354-2400 or go to, and indicate that your donation is for the Monsignor Ed Ryle Fund.

Maybe that would be a good place for all those Abramoff-tainted donations.

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