In a stunning reversal, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has accepted a letter from Chaplain of the House Father Pat Conroy, S.J. asking that his resignation be rescinded.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, the National Day of Prayer, Ryan said he’d reconsidered.
“I have accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House. 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, 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.”
A week ago, Conroy resigned his post because, as he said in his resignation letter, Ryan “requested” it. At the time, Ryan spokesperson AshLee Strong said that it was Conroy who made the decision to resign.
The Chaplain of the House position, which officially dates back to 1789, is an elected one with only Congress having the power to fire a chaplain. After his resignation letter, a resolution was offered by Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-NY, on the firing. The House defeated the resolution, 215-171-3.
The first congressional prayer offered was in 1774 at the first Continental Congress by Reverend Jacob Duché.
Conroy is the first and only House Chaplain fired in almost 230 years.
Here’s what you need to know about Fr. Pat Conroy:
1. House Speaker Paul Ryan Claimed Members of Congress Said Their Spiritual Needs Were Not Being Met. Reports & Some Members of Congress Said Conroy Was Ousted Because of a Prayer he Said Before the GOP 2017 Tax Bill Vote
In his original letter of resignation, Conroy wrote, “As you have requested, I hereby offer my resignation as the 60th Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives. …the position is one which I did not seek nor strive to assume, but I have seen it as a blessing and I have considered it one of the great privileges of my life.”
Crowley was outraged. And so were scores of other House members from both sides of the aisle.
The Hill and other media reported Ryan had a problem with the prayer offered last November before the Republican tax bill.
“May all Members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great Nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle,” Conroy said at the time. “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.”
But Ryan’s office said at the time the decision was Conroy’s, adding some Representatives had said their spiritual needs were not being met by the 60th House chaplain, the second only Catholic.
Conroy said then he was forced out by Ryan.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said it was a “bewildering decision …he forced him out. I think it was wrong.”
Conroy was asked in an 2017 interview about Ryan and Pelosi, both Catholics.
“I would say that Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi are very serious about being Catholic and being the best Catholics they can be. I would say that’s true of most members of Congress in terms of their religious and political positions. So avoid calling someone a ‘bad Catholic.’ Have a bit of respect that these people aren’t just frivolous about their positions. They really, really do struggle with these things.”
2. Sharing a Name With the Renowned Author, Fr. Pat Conroy Has His Own Notable Background
Conroy, 67, was born in Washington State and raised in Oregon. He earned a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in philosophy, a law degree, a Masters of Divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology and a Masters of Sacred Theology. He’s been a Jesuit priest for 35 years, 10 of which he spent as the chaplain at Georgetown University. Conroy worked with Native American tribes in the Northwest and was for a period of time a practicing attorney for the Colville tribe in Washington, “represented Salvadoran refugees for the Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Immigration Office in San Francisco while studying theology, and again worked for the Colville Tribes helping to develop the case for the Tribes’ treaty fishing rights in the mid 1980’s. He has not practiced law since 1986,” the official House bio on Conroy states.
After the first-ever Catholic chaplain Fr. Daniel P. Coughlin was poised to leave his post in late 2010, he recommended Conroy for the position. Then-Speaker John Boehner and Pelosi met with Conroy. And just before he was set to be sworn in, Pelosi was concerned about the fact that Conroy worked for the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, which settled the largest sexual abuse case in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, $166 million. But it was reported that even the attorney’s for the plaintiffs said, “Conroy has not been accused of abusing any children or even covering up for other priests. In fact, Conroy blew the whistle on at least one case of abuse at a prior job.”
Boehner said at the time not only was the settlement widely know and reported, “it has absolutely nothing to do with Fr. Conroy.”
“One of the most important members of the House community is not a member of the House,” Boehner said. “The chaplain is the anchor of the House.”
3. An Atheist Sued Conroy & Ryan Over the Daily Prayer. The Activist Lost in a Federal Court
Dan Barker’s name may not be a household one, but in 1984, when he appeared on AM Chicago with host Oprah Winfrey, and told his tale of going from preacher to atheist, he was while not famous, was widely known.
Barker, co-presidentof the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged Conroy, his staff and Ryan in court in 2016 saying, the chaplaincy is a “…a government prayer program systematically and explicitly engineered to exclude atheists.” What he wanted was the pulpit for a secualr ‘prayer.’ Conroy said no.
In October of 2017, a federal judge ruled against Barker and for Conroy using American history both for guidance and precedent.
The judge said the reality is that his request to open the house with a secular invocation… Was a challenge to the ability of Congress to open with a prayer quote witch she said was established in the Continental Congress more than 240 years ago
4. On Being a Chaplain in Congress Conroy Said, ‘Respecting Every Voice You Hear’ Sometimes Requires Prayer
Conroy said in a broadcast interview for EWTN, paraphrasing Pope Francis, that politics is noble when it’s for the “common good,” so he said his prayer everyday was that the body would work for the common good.
“Congress is a place for people to disagree,” Conroy said. He said that there is bipartisanship in the House which “the public doesn’t get to see …”
“I get to see it. That is when my prayer takes place. I will see two people talking and pray: ‘Lord, whatever that is please bless that. Don’t even know what it is. Send your Spirit upon that conversation.’”
In January of 2017, American Magazine published a piece on Conroy which included an interview done before the inauguration of Donald Trump.
When asked about the then-incoming president, Conroy said that he hoped members of the House would work through struggles “admirably and nobly and that the president-elect himself, having been called to a new office, will respond with the same hope and goodwill.”
“My ministry does not change. I joke that I still pray for miracles every day. There are political observers out there who would say, ‘Well, we need it now more than ever.’ But no, we have always needed it. I have great faith in the United States of America, in our way of proceeding. As awful as things might look to many, and some are justified, I have hope that God is with us.”
5. Conroy Said There Have Been ‘Moments of Grace’ in the House of Representatives
Pope Francis’ visit was such a moment.
“I knew I had all of about 20 seconds with him. I can speak a little Spanish, but I figured I would be starstruck, and what kind of a conversation can you have? In Spanish, I welcomed him to the Capitol—one Jesuit to another. He acknowledged that. Then I asked him if I could give him a blessing. That’s how that happened. He is always asking people to pray for him, so I figured that was a pretty safe way to go,” he said.
But Conroy also recalled another such moment of grace.
“Every once in a while, there will be a member of Congress who stands up and says something noticeably powerful in a prophetic, non-political sense,” he said.
“I remember one day there was an issue being debated on the floor, and John Lewis, who led the Selma march, came to the floor to respond. The member on the other side withdrew his amendment, probably more out of respect for this man than for the issue. He is a holy man and a hero and a giant in our time in terms of moral leadership. It was kind of like, ‘If John Lewis is this upset about it I probably don’t need to do this.'”