Politics

Ryan Accepts Conroy Letter Rescinding His Resignation, Allows Him to Remain House Chaplain

Speaker stands by public statement that his original decision was based on inadequate ‘pastoral services’

Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his chief of staff Jonathan Burks, right, were involved in the initial decision to request House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy’s resignation. Ryan is now accepting Conroy’s decision to rescind that resignation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Speaker Paul D. Ryan is letting House Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy remain in his position, accepting the Jesuit priest’s Thursday letter rescinding his resignation that he submitted last month at the speaker’s request. 

“I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House,” Ryan said in a statement. “My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution.”

Conroy said in his letter that the reasoning Ryan’s chief of staff Jonathan Burks provided when requesting his resignation on behalf of the speaker did not align with Ryan’s own public remarks that his decision was based on member complaints about inadequate pastoral services. 

Specifically, Conroy said Burks mentioned a prayer he gave in November during the tax overhaul debate wishing its benefits be balanced and shared by all Americans and a January interview he gave to the National Journal regarding sexual misconduct on the Hill in which he said suggested calls for accused members to resign might be too hasty.

“Mr. Burks mentioned dismissively something like ‘maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t Catholic,’” Conroy said in his letter. 

Burks said in a statement that he strongly disagrees with Conroy’s recollection of their conversation but did not elaborate. “I am disappointed by the misunderstanding, but wish him the best as he continues to serve the House,” he said. 

Ryan in his statement Thursday stood by his public remarks on the matter

“To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves,” the Wisconsin Republican said. “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 post. I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House.”

In response to a request for comment and a follow-up on a previous request for an interview, the chaplain’s office said, “Father Conroy is not commenting or granting interviews at this time.”

Had the speaker not accepted Conroy’s letter rescinding his resignation, the resignation likely would have stood since it had already been read on the House floor and entered into the congressional record. But some Democrats were looking at ways to challenge that. 

Cooling tensions

Ryan allowing Conroy to remain chaplain should help cool some of the frustration and religious tensions that had erupted over his initial decision

Some members like Rep. Gerald E. Connolly had been discussing ways to keep Conroy in his post at least through the end of his term. The chaplain, an officer of the House, is elected at the start of each Congress to a two-year term. 

“I think today’s letter ought to be seen as an opportunity by Republican leadership to get out of this,” the Virginia Democrat said in an interview before Ryan announced he would accept the letter. 

Connolly said wounds that had been opened by the decision would continue to fester unless Ryan acted. He said he spoke Thursday with Conroy, who told him he intended to rescind his resignation.

“He has every right to be offended at this point, to feel betrayed and misled, to reclaim his good name and his job,” he said.

Before learning of Conroy’s letter to Ryan, Connolly had been discussing with colleagues, including some Republicans whom he declined to name, potential mechanisms to either change the effective date of the chaplain’s resignation or rescind it outright.

Connolly had also discussed with colleagues using the bipartisan search committee that Ryan had begun to set up to make recommendations for Conroy’s replacement. He said Conroy should have been among the candidates considered and that the panel’s recommendation should be made to the new speaker. (Ryan is retiring so regardless of which party holds the majority after the midterms, there will be a new speaker.)

It was not immediately clear whether the search committee, which had yet to be formally announced, would continue under a new timeline.

Questions persist

Connolly said he’d never heard members complain about Conroy’s “pastoral services,” as mentioned by Ryan, adding that if the speaker did field those complaints, he should have shared the concerns with the chaplain.

“What you’re talking about is not a firing offense,” he said. “It’s a correctable behavior.”

Last Friday, Connolly delivered a letter to Ryan’s office with 148 member signatures requesting justification for his decision to fire Conroy and a description of the process he used to do that. North Carolina GOP Rep. Walter B. Jones was the only Republican who signed the letter, although Connolly said there are others who shared their concerns. 

“I have rarely seen members this angry about anything. Because it’s personal,” he said, noting that Conroy had ties to many members of the House from having presided over their weddings or baptisms of their children, among other religious services and counseling. 

Also last Friday, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley offered a privileged resolution on the floor attempting to form a select committee to look into the circumstances surrounding Conroy’s firing. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy offered motion to table, and the Republican majority approved — two joined the Democrats in voting against and three voted present

Crowley issued a statement Thursday saying he was glad Conroy would remain chaplain but said questions still needed to be answered amid conflicting reports about the reason for Ryan’s initial decision.

“This is why I’ve called for a select committee to lead an inquiry into the events leading up to his abrupt dismissal,” the New York Democrat said. “I hope Republicans will join Democrats to help us get the facts and ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.” 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also suggested that the quest for answers will continue. 

“Speaker Ryan’s decision to accept Father Conroy’s decision to rescind his resignation and finish his term is welcome news,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “However, many distressing questions must still be answered about the motivations behind Father Conroy’s unwarranted and unjust dismissal.”

ICYMI: Booing, Interruptions On the House Floor After Chaplain Resignation

 

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