In dramatic shift, Speaker Ryan to keep Jesuit House chaplain in place
Patrick Conroy, S.J., the chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives who was asked last month by Speaker Paul Ryan to resign his post for what he says are unknown reasons, has sent a letter to Mr. Ryan withdrawing his resignation and requesting to stay on until the end of the year, The Washington Post reported Thursday afternoon. Then, in a dramatic reversal late Thursday, Mr. Ryan’s office announced that Father Conroy would retain his role as chaplain.
“I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as chaplain of the House,” Mr. Ryan said in a statement. He stood by his earlier claim that his decision to oust Father Conroy was based not on politics but on having someone in place who could provide quality pastoral care. In the end, however, Mr. Ryan said the House “is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post” and that the pair will sit down to discuss how “we can move forward for the good of the whole House.”
Responding to Mr. Ryan’s decision, a Democratic member of congress renewed calls to investigate why Father Conroy had been asked to resign in the first place.
“Father Pat has served the House honorably for more than seven years, and I’m glad that he will remain the House Chaplain. Still, because there are conflicting reports and questions left unanswered, we need a full understanding of what happened,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley of New York said in a statement. “This is why I’ve called for a select committee to lead an inquiry into the events leading up to his abrupt dismissal. I hope Republicans will join Democrats to help us get the facts and ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.”
Mr. Crowley introduced a resolution last week to investigate Father Conroy’s dismissal, but it was voted down along party lines.
In his letter to Mr. Ryan, Father Conroy defended his record as chaplain, which had been called into question by Mr. Ryan and other House Republicans in recent days.
“I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House chaplain,” wrote Father Conroy.
“Had I known of any failure in providing my ministry to the House, I would have attempted to make the appropriate adjustments, but in no case would I have agreed to submit a letter of resignation without being given that opportunity,” Father Conroy continued. “Therefore, I wish to serve the remainder of my term as House Chaplain, unless terminated ‘for cause.’”
House Chaplain Pat Conroy not going down without a fight. Tells Paul Ryan he won't resign. Ryan has to fire him if he wants the priest to leave Congress. pic.twitter.com/32xegljFer— Daniel Burke (@BurkeCNN) May 3, 2018
In a call, Father Conroy confirmed to America that he did send a letter, to both Mr. Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, but he declined to discuss its contents. His last day as House chaplain was scheduled to be May 24.
In Thursday’s letter to Mr. Ryan, Father Conroy said that he was not given a reason for his termination, but he recounted a conversation between him and Mr. Ryan’s chief of staff, Jonathan Burks, last month. Father Conroy said he was told by Mr. Burks “something like ‘maybe it’s time that we had a chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic.’”
On Thursday, Mr. Burks denied making those remarks.
“I strongly disagree with Father Conroy’s recollection of our conversation. I am disappointed by the misunderstanding, but wish him the best as he continues to serve the House,” he said in a statement.
Last week, comments form Representative Mark Walker of North Carolina, a Southern Baptist minister, raised eyebrows among those who saw in Father Conroy’s termination an anti-Catholic bias. Mr. Walker said he wanted Father Conroy’s successor to be somebody with children, which would preclude nearly all Catholic priests and nuns.
“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,” he said.
Reasons for Father Conroy’s dismissal have not been made clear, but last week Mr. Ryan dismissed claims that his decision was based on politics. “This is not about politics or prayers. It was about pastoral services. And a number of our members felt like the pastoral services were not being adequately served or offered,” Mr. Ryan said last week at a conservative gathering hosted by The Weekly Standard.
Father Conroy has decades of pastoral experience, including serving as chaplain at Catholic high schools and universities.
Others have suggested that the dismissal came after some Republican members of Congress took issue with a prayer Father Conroy delivered on the House floor when lawmakers were debating tax legislation.
Father Conroy told The New York Times last week 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.
Editors Note: This story has been updated.