Speaker Paul D. Ryan told the House Republican Conference on Friday that he did not come to the decision to fire House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy lightly and disputed assertions that it was related to a prayer the Jesuit priest gave during the tax overhaul debate.
“He assured us that had nothing to do with it,” Rep. Mia Love of Utah said.
Several members said Ryan only briefly mentioned the incident, which has infuriated Democrats and some Republicans, during the conference meeting, which was held to discuss the party’s appropriations strategy for fiscal 2019.
“He said he had people coming that were saying they had a concern about that their pastoral needs weren’t being met,” Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada said.
Ryan told members he decided to make a change because of the concerns and that there was no misconduct, Amodei said.
The speaker also told the conference that he had spoken with Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi about why he asked Conroy to leave and that the two party leaders agreed to move forward with the process to field nominees to fill the chaplaincy, Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado said.
One member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Ryan said he’s gotten feedback from numerous members over the last year or so that they’d like a more active spiritual adviser who is more engaged with members and more approachable.
The member had not personally shared concerns with the speaker but said that issues with Conroy have been raised in various formats and he agrees with them.
Watch: The Prayer That Might Have Landed House Chaplain in Hot Water
’Never heard a bad word′
But at least half a dozen GOP members approached about the issue Friday said they had no issues with Conroy and only ever had positive interactions with the chaplain.
“I’ve never heard a bad word about Father Conroy since he’s been here,” New York Rep. Peter King said.
“I know Father Conroy well,” Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry said. He’s been personally very helpful to me. I’ve appreciated his service here.”
Nonetheless, most Republicans did not object to Ryan’s authority or decision to ask Conroy to step down.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who was not at the GOP conference meeting, said he was upset with Ryan’s decision, noting it “came out of nowhere” and he wants more information about what led it.
Told that Ryan’s explanation to the conference was that members had complained their pastoral needs weren’t being met, the Florida Republican said, “As a member whose pastoral needs have been fully met by Father Conroy, I’m very disappointed that I wasn’t consulted. And This doesn’t make any sense to me.”
While no members interviewed offered public complaints about Conroy, some were willing to discuss the concerns they’d be hearing anonymously. Another member who had never personally raised concerns to Ryan said he had heard some chatter from other members that Conroy wasn’t particularly active in reaching out.
For example, Conroy never reached out to the congressional baseball team after the shooting at their practice last year, the member said.
Since the news broke, the member said he heard a story from a colleague who said that Conroy had made an offensive comment to him.
Ryan taking action to push Conroy out was related to the speaker wanting to leave the House in a better place than when he found it before his retirement at the end of the term, the member said.
Some members of the baseball team disputed the assertion that Conroy hadn’t done enough after the shooting.
“I think that’s, in my case, definitely not true, said Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois. “Father Conroy reached out to me multiple times the day of and even after that.”
Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas, the team’s manager who was at the practice with his sons, said Conroy “was responsive to me and my sons after the shooting last year. He has always been positively interactive with me. To my knowledge, he was available and helpful to any team member last year.”
At last year’s game, held the day after the shooting before a record crowd at Nationals Stadium, Conroy led a prayer on second base with both the Democratic and Republican teams.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk said that prayer will be his “enduring memory” of Conroy.
Rep. Dan Kildee said Ryan’s explanation was “pretty week.”
“There’s no doubt that that part of it had to do with disagreement over the content of some of the prayers,” the Michigan Democrat said. “One of my Republican colleagues told me that directly.”
Conroy said in an interview with The New York Times Thursday that he is still unclear about the reason as he was never given anything in writing. He said Ryan’s chief of staff Jonathan Burks told him the speaker wanted his resignation and he complied.
While Conroy told the Times he did not know if politics was a factor, he pointed to a prayer he gave in November during the tax overhaul debate saying, “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.”
About a week after delivering that prayer a Ryan staffer communicated that the speaker's office was upset by the prayer and felt he was getting too political. Conroy said shortly after Ryan himself told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowleyoffered a privileged resolution Friday to establish a select committee to look into Conroy’s firing, citing the prayer among the reasons for concern about Ryan's decision.
The resolution was defeated under a motion to table that was agreed to 215-171 with three Republicans — Reps. Dave Joyce of Ohio, Thomas J. Rooney of Florida, and Scott Taylor of Virginia — voting present.
Alex Gangitano and Griffin Connolly contributed to this report