House chaplain wins job back after scalding letter to Ryan

The Rev. Patrick Conroy, former chaplain of the House of Representatives, delivers an interfaith message on the steps of the Capitol in Washington for the victims of the mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando on June 13, 2016. Conroy, a Roman Catholic priest from the Jesuit order, has been forced out after seven years by House Speaker Paul Ryan after complaints by some lawmakers claimed he was too political. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The embattled chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives has won his job back just hours after sending a scalding letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan that accused a top Ryan staff aide of telling him “something like ‘maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic.'”

Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, forced the Rev. Pat Conroy to tender his resignation last month, sparking a firestorm. Ryan has said he was dissatisfied with Conroy’s pastoral care to lawmakers.

But in a statement Thursday (May 3), Ryan — himself a Catholic — reversed course.

“It is my job as speaker to do what is best for this body, and I know that this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important position,” Ryan said.

Ryan’s statement came soon after Conroy delivered a two-page letter that said he has never “heard a complaint about my ministry” as House chaplain. Instead, Conroy says top Ryan aide Jonathan Burks told him the speaker wanted his resignation, and cited a prayer last year that was potentially critical of the GOP tax bill.

“I inquired as to whether or not it was ‘for cause,’ and Mr. Burks mentioned something dismissively like ‘maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic,'” Conroy wrote to Ryan in a letter that was also sent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Ryan did not directly address Conroy’s explosive charge, saying, “To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves.”

Burks, in a statement released by Ryan’s office, said “I strongly disagree with Father Conroy’s recollection of our conversation.”

Conroy also wrote that Burks mentioned a November prayer regarding the GOP tax bill that upset many Republicans.

Then, Conroy prayed for lawmakers to make sure that “there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

Conroy told The New York Times last week that shortly afterward Ryan warned Conroy to “stay out of politics.” Conroy also invited a Muslim cleric last year to give the opening prayer, a move that Democrats say may have upset GOP conservatives.

Conroy’s resignation sparked an uproar last week when it became known that he was asked to quit. Catholic lawmakers such as Reps. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., and Peter King, R-N.Y., were particularly upset, especially after a Republican lawmaker, Mark Walker, R-N.C., was quoted in The Hill as saying Conroy’s replacement should have a family — which would rule out Catholic priests — to better serve the needs of lawmakers.

Ryan’s retreat came quickly. Congress is on vacation this week but Ryan said he would meet with Conroy early next week “so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House.”

The chaplain is elected by the full House and Democrats said Ryan does not have the power to fire him.

In an appearance in Milwaukee last week, Ryan said: “This was 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.”

But Conroy fired back, saying, “this is not the reason that Mr. Burks gave when asking for my ‘resignation.'”

Conroy’s resignation letter said he was offering to step down at Ryan’s request, calling his seven years of House service “one of the great privileges of my life.”

But on Thursday, Conroy said, ‘I wish to serve the remainder of my term as House Chaplain, unless terminated ‘for cause.’ Please be guided accordingly.”

Conroy copied New Jersey attorney Daniel Marchese on the letter. Marchese declined to comment other than to say Conroy is seeking to get his job back.

The chaplain is responsible for opening the House each day with a prayer and offering counseling to lawmakers and aides on the House side of the Capitol. Conroy is a Roman Catholic priest from the Jesuit order.

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  • I wonder if a majority of the folks he serves are Catholic. If not why can’t they have a protestant. Or given the number of churches in the area why have a chaplaiin at all.

  • “Ryan has said he was dissatisfied with Conroy’s pastoral care to lawmakers.”

    Don’t worry Paul, your exorcism is scheduled.

  • I see the conflict. Conroy was promoting compassion for the poor and concern for fairness and justice. That’s totally incompatible with Republican Christianity.

  • Tradition, mainly. Technically it’s a violation of the separation of church and state, but nobody bothers to challenge it.

  • You would think so but it’s up to our courts to make that determination and the SCOTUS can always surprise us.

  • This is all about not offending those Catholic voters in swing districts. Period. Paul Ryan jumped the gun by acting impulsively in firing the chaplain and then had to backtrack when someone explained to him that Republicans might lose the House and Senate if they offend too many Catholics. As always, it’s about politics, not principle.

  • Yes, I know. That’s why I said it’s continued due to ‘tradition,’ which was the ruling given.

  • Out with him (or her) or any other House chaplain. Tis a waste of $164,000/year. His (or hers) prayers are moot as there is no god to hear them. Time to get with the 21st century reality!!

  • What you wrote was:

    “Technically it’s a violation of the separation of church and state, but nobody bothers to challenge it.”

    which “… I said it’s continued due to ‘tradition,’ which was the ruling given” seems to indicate was something of a falsehood.

  • Haha! And can you make out the two words right before that, where I said ‘Tradition, mainly’?

    You’re so desperate to score points that you can’t even read two sentences in a row.

    Really, you can quit trying to demonstrate your superior legal knowledge; it keeps backfiring on you.

  • “Tradition, mainly” in front of “Technically it’s a violation of the separation of church and state, but nobody bothers to challenge it.” appears to say “Nobody bothers to challenge it; it’s a tradition.”

    At this point we’re discussing English grammar, not “legal knowledge”.

  • As one who has been a chaplain, I will say that the vast majority are able and willing to serve the spiritual needs of those of any religion or none. The only problem I’ve seen has been with some evangelical Christian chaplains who seem intent on “correcting” the faith of other sorts of Christians and converting those who aren’t already Christians. A generous tolerance is the primary requirement for any chaplain. The denominational group or faith plays only a tiny part.

  • He was forced out by a politician after complaints by some politicians who claimed he was too political????? That’s really cute.

  • I think that Ryan was pushed by the Trump Evangelicals to terminate Conroy so that they could put one of their own into that position.

    The Trump Evangelicals are trying to insinuate themselves into whatever positions of power they can achieve.

  • Ryan was dead wrong, of course, but we really do not need congressional chaplains, what with the DC area having an abundance of clergy of all persuasions. Save the money. — Edd Doerr

  • Raised in a fairly strict theological denomination, mot sure I would be comfortable with clergy from another background whether the so called Evangelical or some forms of catholic.

  • Still hoping he will be the last chaplain…not holding my breath.

    Like to see a chaplain from the Satanic Temple in there at some point in my lifetime…at least they would have better moral guide !!

  • Congress has many traditions, having an opening prayer led by a chaplain has been there since the first Congress. Some traditions are more useful than others, but they are still preserved.
    As to whether they are needed, it certain depends on the individual senator or representative. The bullets and bombs might not be real, but the wounds from words and betrayals are, as are the explosions that change the direction of your life in a moment. Don’t under estimate the pressures these people are under either.
    Finally, as to whether a single chaplain can meet the needs of different people… most of the time the answer is yes. Of course if you don’t want to visit the chaplain, you don’t have to.

  • You may not have to see the chaplain, but you must endure his prayers.
    Having a Chaplain in the House of Representatives and saying prayers makes the statement that this is not a secular nation.

  • I suspect there are many other traditions the members of the House have to endure, besides this one. Your argument is about principle and consistency and quite reasonable. However, in human societies tradition often overrules reason.

  • You are correct, with a President who preaches at rally’s and prayers as part of government functions, it is a government that favors Christians and to a lesser extent followers of any religion. The government of a free nation would not promote religion or other ideologies. It would recognize the human right to freedom of conscience. This was likely the failed intention of the First Amendment.

  • We cannot maintain that tradition and still claim that our government protects freedom of conscience.

  • The last president I hear actually preach was Carter.

    The Supreme Court has given two thumbs up to promoting a sort of generic religiosity with things like “In God We Trust” as a motto, on coins, and currency.

    The likely intention of the First Amendment was preventing a repeat of the Church of England and all that entailed, which we appear to be in absolutely no danger of.

  • God in the Anthem and on the money was promoted by Evangelicals and Eisenhower. The Supreme Courts decision is another example of this government not supporting freedom of conscious, That’s two thumbs up for the oppression of the non-religious.

  • There is no answer to this problem in a pluralistic society. Someone’s conscience will be offended either way. The courts have declared it’s essentially a meaningless tradition, and besides, we’ve been doing it “forever”, so allowed it. In other words, why bother with it when there are so many other more important things to argue over.

  • Of course they do. The Justices of that court are not concerned about freedom of conscience anymore than our President or his religious right supporters.

  • Tradition my explain the Supreme Courts Position. Morality requires justice.

  • only these last 2 have been catholics . prior all were protestant . no matter . the post is non denominational and service must be given to all .

    “…why have a chaplaiin at all.” the office is not just going to church or saying prayers . in fact it is little of that at all . the editor at wikipedia broke down well the areas of duties shown on the chaplain’s web page .