Rescind jpg

House chaplain digs in, Ryan retreats

Fr. Patrick Conroy


By Irish Echo Staff

House of Representatives chaplain, Fr. Patrick Conroy, will remain at his post on Capitol Hill.

The Jesuit priest has rescinded his resignation tendered to Speaker Paul Ryan, a move that was to have taken effect on May 24.

The rescinding, which came into public view on Thursday, followed bipartisan uproar in the wake of Conroy’s effective dismissal by Ryan last month.

"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.

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"My original decision was made in what I believed to be in 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."

There were reports of dissatisfaction among some House members with how Conroy went about his work, but there were additional reports pointing to tension on Capitol Hill between Catholics and Evangelicals over the house chaplaincy.

And light was also focused on a prayer recited on the House floor by Fr. Conroy in advance of passage of the GOP tax bill, Speaker Ryan’s top legislative priority in the current House session.

Added Speaker Ryan in his statement: "It is my job as speaker to do what is best for the 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 his rescinding letter to Ryan, Fr. Conroy had stated: "At this time, and upon advice of counsel, I hereby retract and rescind said resignation for the reasons that follow.”

Conroy has been House chaplain since 2011. His predecessor, Daniel Coughlin, was also a Catholic priest and served from 2000 to 2011. Together, the two priests comprise the entire Catholic chaplaincy in the history of the House post which dates back to 1789.

As the story rumbled on, and before Fr. Conroy’s decision not to resign, John Fitzmorris III, National Catholic Action Chairman of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, signaled in a statement the concern of the nations’ largest Irish Catholic organization.

Stated Fitzmorris in part: “The tenth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew underscores the cost and requirements of proclaiming Jesus’s message to the Church. ‘One’s enemies will be those of his own household,’ is the stark reality Christ presents those of us who would preach that gospel message.

“Those passages have become prescient in light of the recent forced resignation of House Chaplain, Fr. Patrick Conroy, S.J., by House Speaker and self-proclaimed devout Catholic, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

“Only twice in its history has the House of Representatives employed Roman Catholics as chaplains, and Fr. Conroy is the first Chaplain of any denomination ever to be dismissed before the end of his tenure.

“Numerous theories surround Fr. Conroy’s dismissal. Many point to the Jesuit priest’s prayer back in November that called upon all members of the House to remember the basic principles and tenets of fairness and justice in passing the major tax overhaul.

“Others have cited the remarks of Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), a Southern Baptist minister, who opined that someone who is married and has children of his own would be better suited to serve as chaplain (which would thus eliminate any Catholic Priest or Nun and even Jesus himself from consideration).

“A third story circulating was that Fr. Conroy was apparently not meeting the ‘spiritual needs of the lawmakers.’

Continued Fitzmorris: “The problem is that whatever scenario regarding the dismissal of Fr. Conroy proves true, it presents troubling issues for Roman Catholics and people of faith in general. Speaker Ryan has either jettisoned a chaplain for adhering to the recognized tenets of all major religions or caved in to thinly veiled anti-Catholicism.

“From the founding of the nation through the campaigns of Al Smith and John F. Kennedy, some members of our society have openly questioned the ability of Roman Catholics to function as ‘full and true Americans.’

“Roman Catholics of all stripes have proven their patriotism and devotion time and again either through military or public service.

“Those of us who know the history of the days when the Know-Nothings sparked fear throughout Catholic America shall remind Americans that there was nothing great about that time.

“If Fr. Conroy’s forced resignation came about because his prayers made some ‘uncomfortable,’ then they should revisit our nation's history.

In 1774, when there was discussion as to appoint a chaplain to Congress, some representatives raised the issue that some may be ‘uncomfortable’ if the minister was not of their denomination.

“This controversy was ended when Samuel Adams observed ‘He was no bigot and could hear a Prayer from a Gentleman of Piety and Virtue, who was at the same Time a Friend to his Country.’

“We would be wise to follow Sam Adams’ wisdom in an effort to make America great again.

“We, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, call upon Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, to give sufficient answer to the questions surrounding the dismissal of Reverend Patrick Conroy, S.J.”

Similar questions have been posed to Speaker Ryan in recent days by House members, Republican and Democrat.

GOP Rep. Peter King and Joe Crowley, one of the top ranked Democrats in the House, have been to the fore in seeking answers.

Said Rep. Crowley, in a statement after reports of the rescinding letter and Ryan’s reversal, said: “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. This is why I’ve called for a select committee to lead an inquiry into the events leading up to his abrupt dismissal. I hope Republicans will join Democrats to help us get the facts and ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.”