Ousted Chaplain Says Ryan Told Him 'Stay Out Of Politics' After Tax-Bill Prayer

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Some lawmakers suspect Speaker Ryan did not appreciate a prayer Father Conroy offered during debate on the tax overhaul.

The resignation of House Chaplain Patrick Conroy came as much a shock to the reverend as it did members of the House and public.

According to The New York Times, Conroy was blindsided by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s demand that he step down, and Conroy still has not been told what precipitated the move.

The sudden resignation of the chaplain, the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, shocked members of both parties. He had served in the role since he was nominated in 2011 by Speaker John A. Boehner, a fellow Catholic. In an interview, Father Conroy was categorical: His departure was not voluntary.

“I was asked to resign, that is clear,” Father Conroy said. As for why, he added, “that is unclear.”

Father Conroy said he received the news from Mr. Ryan’s chief of staff. “The speaker would like your resignation,” Father Conroy recalled being told. He complied.

Speculation has swirled that Ryan took issue with a prayer Conroy offered as the House was debating tax legislation – a prayer during which the chaplain asked that lawmakers would be mindful of the ways their actions might affect the poor.

About a week later, Father Conroy said, he heard from the speaker’s office. “A staffer came down and said, We are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political,” he said. “It suggests to me that there are members who have talked to him about being upset with that prayer.”

Shortly after, when he saw Mr. Ryan himself, Father Conroy said that the speaker told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”

But Conroy said he has striven for seven years to remain apolitical as he attended the needs of House members, and he failed to see the politics in that specific prayer:

“If you are hospital chaplain, you are going to pray about health,” he added. “If you are a chaplain of Congress, you are going to pray about what Congress is doing.”

Despite the lack of clarity surrounding his departure, Conroy does not intend to contest Ryan’s decision, nor has he asked the Speaker why he was let go.

Father Conroy said he did not ask Mr. Ryan why he was asked to resign, and he does not plan to contest his departure. “I do not want to debate this,” he said. “My understanding going into this is that I serve at the prerogative of the speaker.”

However, lawmakers have not responded so generously and are working to uncover the motive behind Ryan’s actions:

Representatives Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina, and Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, are circulating a letter for their colleagues to sign, asking Mr. Ryan for more information.

“I’m very upset,” Mr. Jones said. “If this is true about the prayer, and we have freedom of religion in America, how about freedom of religion on the floor of the House?”

“The members of the House vote for the chaplain,” he continued. “This is not a one-man decision. The House should have the facts of whatever the problem is.”

The chaplain's final day will be May 24.