The recent resignation of House Chaplain Rev. Patrick Conroy caught many within the House chambers by surprise. Conroy, who has served in the role since 2011, had provided counsel and support to numerous members of Congress during his tenure, but a visit from Speaker Paul Ryan’s chief of staff two weeks ago abruptly brought that to an end with a single request: “The speaker would like your resignation.”
Conroy complied, but still has not been given a concrete reason from the Speaker for his dismissal. Ryan stated Friday in a meeting with the House Republican Conference that he asked Conroy to resign after receiving complaints from House members who felt their “pastoral needs” weren’t being met. During the meeting, Rep. Peter King stated that he regularly spoke with Conroy and never heard of complaints regarding Conroy from his colleagues. “I saw people walk up to him all the time, sit down with him. So I never heard any of these complaints before … I’m not the Speaker, but I never heard [them],” King told reporters following the meeting.
King isn’t the only Congressperson calling Ryan’s reasoning into question. Rep. Gerry Connolly told the Huffington Post that he was “informed reliably” by Republican House members that the Speaker’s anger at Conroy’s final prayer during the tax bill debate fueled his request for the Chaplain’s dismissal. The prayer expressed compassion for the American public while wishing the tax bill wouldn’t single out “winners and losers” (i.e. the rich and the poor) in its composition.
Conroy stated that shortly after he delivered the critical prayer, Ryan told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.” Conroy didn’t think that his prayer added to the growing politicization of the debate around the tax bill. “That is what I have tried to do for seven years … it doesn’t sound political to me,” said Conroy.
Other Democratic Representatives have pointed to clashing ideologies of Catholicism between Ryan, who is a conservative Catholic, and Conroy, who belongs to the more liberal Jesuit branch of the faith. This speculation was further cemented on Thursday when Rep. Mark Walker, who is himself a Southern Baptist minister and is heading the search committee that will determine Conroy’s replacement, stated his belief that the next House Chaplain should have a family, which would disqualify Catholic priests and nuns from serving in the role.
Ryan himself is on his way out the door, as well, but it appears that he still feels the desire to use the weight of his position until his tenure is up, even when his reasoning raises questions across party lines. Conroy prayed for fairness and Ryan clearly didn’t listen, both in the tax bill debate and his own personal convictions.
On Friday afternoon, the House rejected a resolution brought forth by Rep. Joe Crowley that would have set up a select committee to investigate the “motivations and actions” behind Conroy’s dismissal. The measure had some measure of bipartisan support, but was ultimately shot down when voting went along party lines.