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Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy outlasts Ryan; continues his role in new Congress

Former speaker sought to remove Jesuit priest

Father Patrick J. Conroy will remain in his role of House chaplain for the 116th Congress, after a year of that was full of turmoil surrounding the role. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Father Patrick J. Conroy will remain in his role of House chaplain for the 116th Congress, after a year of that was full of turmoil surrounding the role. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Father Patrick J. Conroy will remain in his role as House chaplain for the 116th Congress, after a year full of turmoil surrounding the role.

The House voice voted Thursday afternoon to install the House officers —   but not without an extra hurdle for the chaplain.

House GOP Caucus Chairwoman Liz Cheney called for a separate vote on the chaplain, separating Conroy’s fate from that of his fellow House officers like the clerk, sergeant-at-arms and chief administrative officer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi granted Cheney’s motion, and Conroy was approved.

The House chaplain opens every House session with a prayer or brings in a guest chaplain to say a prayer. The chaplain is also responsible for “pastoral counseling” for the House community. That includes arranging memorial services for House members and their staff and performing marriages.

Former chaplains served from two to 21 years. Conway’s term as chaplain began in 2011.

In April 2018, then-Speaker Paul D. Ryan moved to fire Conroy, a Jesuit priest. Ryan faced pushback from Democrats — including fellow Catholic Nancy Pelosi — and from a few Republicans.

Members opposing Conroy’s ouster raised concerns about religious freedom and wondered whether Ryan was being pressured by evangelical Republicans whose views may not align with Conroy’s Jesuit beliefs. Jesuits focus on education and service to others, and are known for having more liberal religious views compared to some more traditional Catholics and other religions. 

Ryan’s staff had raised concerns about a prayer Conroy delivered Nov. 6 during the tax overhaul debate.

“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,” Conroy said in the prayer.

But Ryan denied that he fired Conroy over the prayer. 

Nancy Pelosi said in a statement at the time that she expressed “forceful disagreement” with Ryan over his decision to ask Conroy to resign.

“It is truly sad that he made this decision, and it is especially bewildering that he did so only a matter of months before the end of his term,” the California Democrat said. “The Speaker did this knowing that he had no power to fire Father Conroy and instead chose to force him out by demanding his resignation.”

There is no stated process in House rules for removing the chaplain.

Democratics Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia  worked on a privileged resolution to rescind Conroy’s resignation and reinstate him as chaplain through the end of 2018.

“I have rarely seen members this angry about anything. Because it’s personal,” said then-Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat. He noted that Conroy had ties to many members of the House, having counseled them and presided over many religious services, including weddings and baptisms.

In a letter rescinding his resignation — provided initially at the speaker’s request — Conroy essentially dared Ryan to fire him.

“Had I known of any failure in providing my ministry to the House, I would have attempted to make the appropriate adjustments, but in no case would I have agreed to submit a letter of resignation without being given that opportunity,” Conroy wrote. “Therefore, I wish to serve the remainder of my term as House Chaplain, unless terminated ‘for cause.’”

Ryan accepted it, and Conroy stayed on as chaplain. He’s staying even longer, as Pelosi’s choice for House chaplain for the next two years.

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

Watch: The Prayer That Might Have Landed House Chaplain in Hot Water

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