From The Hill:
House Chaplain Patrick Conroy’s sudden resignation has sparked a furor on Capitol Hill, with sources in both parties saying he was pushed out by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Conroy’s own resignation announcement stated that it was done at Ryan’s request.
Through his office, Conroy, who has served as chaplain since 2011, declined to comment on Thursday. His resignation is effective May 24.
Four different sources — two from each party — say Conroy was told that he must retire or that he would be dismissed.
The message from Ryan was delivered by his chief of staff, Jonathan Burks.
The issue has riled House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who broached the episode during the Democrats’ whip meeting in the Capitol Thursday morning.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers are planning to send a letter to Ryan requesting additional information regarding Conroy’s dismissal; the group is currently circulating the letter among colleagues to collect more signatures.The thinking among Democrats is that Ryan pushed Conroy out “because Republicans thought he was aligned with Democrats,” according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with the discussion.
Father Conroy’s resignation is all the more contentious in Catholic circles because Mr. Ryan is a Catholic conservative, whereas Father Conroy is a Jesuit, a branch that is viewed by some as more liberal.
Asked whether differences in politics were a factor in his ouster, Father Conroy said: “I do not want to politicize this. I have thoughts about it, but I am not contributing to that.”
But, he said, Capitol Hill is an inherently political place. “There are Catholics who are Republicans and there are Catholics who are Democrats,” he said. “I don’t know if there is a religious divide; there certainly is a political one.”
Though Father Conroy said he did not know whether politics were behind his departure, he pointed to a prayer he had given on the House floor in November, when Congress was debating tax overhaul legislation.
“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,” he prayed. “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.”
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.”
UPDATE: This may shed light on the resignation. From The New York Times:
In a closed-door meeting with Republican lawmakers Friday morning, the speaker insisted that neither politics nor the prayer had anything to do with the firing, according to Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, who was in attendance and questioned the speaker.
Mr. King said in an interview that Mr. Ryan told the assembled lawmakers that he had removed Father Conroy because of complaints about his availability and the quality of his pastoral care. Mr. King said he had never heard such complaints, and told the speaker that he needed to give a more public explanation.
And there was this, late today, from NPR:
Democrat Gerry Connolly of Virginia told NPR, “Why wouldn’t you counsel him to do better if there was a problem? Why wouldn’t you give him to the end of this Congress which is the end of this year so that he can gracefully exit?”
The murkiness has led to allegations from Democrats, which Ryan has further denied, that the decision involved in part a November prayer on the House floor in which Conroy appeared to criticize the GOP’s tax cut legislation and included the line: “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.”
There are also reports that some lawmakers were dissatisfied with his service, but no one has stepped forward to criticize Conroy. Pelosi disputed that members on her side of the aisle ever voiced opposition to the chaplain. “During Father Conroy’s entire service, I’ve never received a complaint from our members about him pastoring to the needs of the House,” she said Friday.
Congress adjourned Friday for a weeklong recess. There is no firm timetable on finding Conroy’s replacement. He will remain in the job until late May and continues to offer the opening prayer each day when the House goes into session. “As the members of this people’s House deliberate these days, give them the wisdom and magnanimity to lay aside what might divide us as a people to forge a secure future for our country,” he prayed Friday morning.