A day after reports emerged that Patrick Conroy, S.J., was forced to resign his role as House chaplain at the behest of Republican Speaker Paul Ryan, congressional Democrats, led by Representative Joe Crowley of New York, proposed forming a committee to investigate Father Conroy’s ouster.
The proposal to investigate the removal of Father Conroy was rejected in a vote along party lines, with just two Republicans, Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania and Tom Reed of New York, voting with Democrats not to kill the proposal. Three Republicans voted present.
Speaking on the House floor surrounded by colleagues, Mr. Crowley said the firing was “concerning to a number of members on both sides of the aisle” and that it “compromised the dignity of the House of Representatives by politicizing the office of House chaplain.”
Mr. Crowley, noting that Father Conroy is the first Jesuit and only the second Catholic priest to hold the role of chaplain, pointed to reports 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 gave the prayer on the House floor, and some may have interpreted it as being critical of the G.O.P.-backed tax bill that was being debated at the time (and was subsequently signed into law).
“As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, may all Members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great Nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle,” Father Conroy said on Nov. 6, 2017. “May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”
Mr. Crowley said the firing “compromised the dignity of the House of Representatives by politicizing the office of House chaplain.”
On Friday, Mr. Ryan’s spokeswoman tweeted that the speaker “didn’t fire [the chaplain] over a prayer,” but she did not offer a reason why Father Conroy was asked to resign. Father Conroy told The New York Times on Thursday that after he offered the prayer on taxes, Mr. Ryan told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.” He told the newspaper that this was the first time the speaker’s office had raised questions about the content of his prayers.
“Dismissal of Father Conroy following this prayer shows Republicans’ true refusal to embody the values of faith and charity in legislative work,” said Mr. Crowley, who is Catholic, on the House floor on Friday. He added that the House of Representatives benefits from “being guided by a chaplain with a commitment to caring about those most in need.” He also invoked Pope Francis, referring to his latest apostolic exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate,” which the congressman said is a reminder to Christians to “care for the poor, the sick and the immigrant.”
After the news of Father Conroy’s forced resignation was made public, Mr. Ryan told Republican colleagues on Friday that some lawmakers felt Father Conroy was not providing appropriate pastoral care to House members, The Hill reported. Republican Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado told reporters that the speaker’s office had received complaints about Father Conroy’s pastoral care, and Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, another Republican, said it was “time for a change.”
Republican Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado told reporters that the speaker’s office had received complaints about Father Conroy’s pastoral care.
According to Roll Call, a Republican member of Congress said anonymously that Father Conroy did not reach out to members following a 2017 shooting at a congressional baseball game. But that notion was disputed by several members of the team of both parties, who praised Father Conroy’s outreach following the attack. Father Conroy prayed about the shooting on the House floor last June.
But comments from a Republican helping to lead a search for the next chaplain left some Catholic members of Congress wondering if an anti-Catholic bias was at work. Representative Mark Walker of North Carolina, a Southern Baptist minister, said he wanted Father Conroy’s successor to be somebody with children, which would preclude nearly all Catholic priests and nuns.
While Mr. Walker said that this desire does not explicitly rule out a Catholic chaplain, he said that “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 relate a little bit more than others.”
According to the House of Representatives website, the chaplain offers prayers and also “provides pastoral counseling to the House community, coordinates the scheduling of guest chaplains, and arranges memorial services for the House and its staff.”
Rep. Mark Walker on a new chaplain: “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.”
Some Democrats said the firing and Mr. Walker’s remarks were signs of an anti-Catholic bias.
The chief of staff to Massachusetts Senator Edward Markey, Paul Tencher, tweeted that Father Conroy’s firing was “despicable and anti-Catholic,” adding, “Will Speaker Ryan be denied the Eucharist?”
Gerry Connolly, a Democratic representative from Virginia, took issue with Mr. Walker’s words.
“We, on its face, would consider such a remark to be anti-Catholic—on its face. So you’re eliminating anyone who’s a Catholic priest, a Catholic nun, from being the chaplain of the House. The largest denomination in the country,” he said, according to The Hill. “Now, I don’t know if Walker knows that’s what he really said. But to any Catholic ears, that’s what we heard.”
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