June 27, 2022

The House Chaplain fired by Paul Ryan just turned the tables on him with a surprise move

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God only knows House Speaker Paul Ryan can’t retire soon enough to please everyone.


Today the Wisconsin Republican got a letter from one of his critics, the former chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, who rescinded the letter of resignation he wrote at Ryan’s request on April 15. 

The Catholic priest who has been elected House Chaplin by the Congressman for the last seven years wants to continue in that role for the 115th U.S. Congress to the end of his two-year term and beyond.

“I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House Chaplain,” writes Conroy, challenging whether Ryan even has the power to fire him from his elected position.  

Conroy notes he never spoke to Ryan directly but after the Speaker’s Chief of Staff Jonathan Burks asked him to resign, he did submit a letter of resignation.

Then, he writes, he chose to “remain silent about this matter despite numerous requests from the media.”

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Since then, he adds, “There has been much said in conjecture about my leaving the Chaplain’s Office, much of it damaging to the reputation of the House and the integrity of the Office of the Chaplain.”

“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,” writes Conroy explaining why he wants to remain Chaplin “unless terminated ‘for cause.'”

Both Republicans and Democrats have raised questions since Controy was dismissed about whether there was a just cause, or if it was just a political whim by the Speaker. 

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Conroy recalls in his letter that when Burks told hin Ryan wanted him to resign, he asked if it was “for cause.”

“Mr. Burks mentioned dismissively something like “maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic.” writes Conroy.

“He also mentioned my November prayer and an interview with the National Journal Daily. At that point, I thought that I had little choice but to resign, as my assumption was that you had the absolute prerogative and authority to end my term as House Chaplain.”

In that November prayer, Ryan was said to have been annoyed when Conroy said in the then-upcoming tax legislation there was a need for fairness.

He had prayed for lawmakers to “guarantee 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 that Ryan didn’t like the tax reference in his prayer and told him “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”

Then on April 27, adds Conroy, “you publicly indicated that my ‘pastoral services’ to some Members were lacking and that I did not offer adequate “spiritual counseling” to others.”

“This is not the reason that Mr. Burks gave me when asking for my “resignation.” In fact, no such criticism has ever been leveled against me during my tenure as House Chaplain.”

If that were true, wrote Conroy, he would have tried to correct the situation.

When it became clear to the members of Congress that Conroy was not retiring but had been fired by Ryan, there was an uproar on both sides of the aisle.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called Father Conroy’s dismissal unjust, hard to understand and impossible to support. 

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Some Congressmen rightfully questioned why the House, ostensibly a secular body, needs a chaplain at all, but most are sympathetic to Conroy, who as a Catholic would be expected to speak for the poor and those who cannot speak for themselves.

Certainly, Conroy’s boss, Pope Francis, has had his disagreements with Ryan’s favorite president, Donald Trump, over his appalling treatment of the poor, his disregard for environmental issues and the litany of sins that Trump proudly wears on his sleeve.

Ryan, who is a Catholic, has bowed to the pressure – or perhaps recognized how poor the optics of a protracted public fight with a priest would be – and has allowed him to stay.

God only knows after kowtowing to Trump for the past two years, it would be good to see Ryan learn a lesson of humility, but it just doesn’t seem likely.

Benjamin Locke

Benjamin Locke is a retired college professor with an undergraduate degree in Industrial Labor and Relations from Cornell University and an MBA from the European School of Management.

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