Ryan backs down on House chaplain resignation

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has backed down on his controversial decision to dismiss the House chaplain, saying he will let Father Patrick Conroy stay on through the rest of his term.

Ryan said in a statement Thursday that he has accepted a request from Conroy to rescind his resignation letter, which Ryan had asked the chaplain to submit.

“I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House,” Ryan said. “My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution. To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves.”

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

Ryan’s decision to force out the chaplain against his will ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill last week, with some members calling on Ryan to reinstate Conroy and others questioning Ryan’s motivation behind the move.

The Speaker has said he asked Conroy to step aside because some members complained that their “pastoral needs” were not being met.

Conroy wrote in a fiery letter to Ryan earlier Thursday that he did nothing to deserve being pushed out last month and wishes to remain at least through the end of the year, when his term expires.

“I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House chaplain,” Conroy wrote in his letter to Ryan on Thursday.

“It is my desire to continue to serve as House Chaplain … to the end of my current two-year term, and beyond, unless my services are officially terminated (however that is properly done) or I am not reelected to the position by the membership of the House,” he wrote.

Conroy also said in the letter that Ryan’s chief of staff Jonathan Burks approached the chaplain last month requesting his resignation on behalf of Ryan, himself a Catholic.

Conroy said Burks gave no specific cause, but suggested it was time for a non-Catholic to fill the chaplain post.

“I inquired as to whether or not it was ‘for cause,’ and Mr. Burks mentioned dismissively something like ‘maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t Catholic,’ ” Conroy wrote.

Burks pushed back against Conroy’s assertion, saying he remembers the conversation differently.

“I strongly disagree with Father Conroy’s recollection of our conversation,” Burks said in a statement. “I am disappointed by the misunderstanding, but wish him the best as he continues to serve the House.”

The decision to let Conroy stay on will likely help tamp down the controversy surrounding the chaplain’s ouster.

Ryan also said he plans to meet with Conroy next week.

“I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House,” Ryan said in a statement.

While Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) applauded the move, the House Democratic Caucus chairman said he still wants answers about how the situation was initially handled, to prevent a similar incident from ever happening again.

“Father Pat has served the House honorably for more than seven years, and I’m glad that he will remain the House Chaplain. Still, because there are conflicting reports and questions left unanswered, we need a full understanding of what happened,” Crowley said in a statement.

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