House chaplain retracts resignation, presses Speaker Ryan to let him remain in post

WASHINGTON — The House chaplain, Rev. Patrick Conroy, has decided to fight Speaker Paul Ryan’s move to oust him – telling the Republican leader on Thursday he wants to retract the resignation letter he submitted at Ryan’s direction.

“I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House chaplain,” Conroy wrote in a letter to Ryan. “It is my desire to continue to serve as House chaplain in this 115th United States Congress and beyond …”

Ryan asked Conroy to resign in mid-April — a move that has sparked a backlash in both parties and across religious lines among lawmakers who felt blindsided by the House speaker’s decision and felt Conroy was treated unfairly.

Conroy, in his letter on Thursday, says that Ryan never spoke with him directly about his ouster. He said Ryan dispatched his chief of staff, Jonathan Burks, to inform him of the firing.

When Conroy asked why, “Mr. Burks mentioned dismissively something like ‘maybe it’s time that we had a chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic,’” Conroy states in the letter.

Conroy said Burks also mentioned a prayer Conroy had delivered in November, as Republicans were preparing to vote on their tax cut bill, that urged lawmakers not to create “winners and losers” and keep in mind those who “continue to struggle.”

Conroy said he initially felt he had “little choice to resign,” but he has now reconsidered – especially in light of comments Ryan made last week saying he fired the chaplain because “a number of our members felt like the pastoral services were not being adequately served, or offered.”

Conroy said that’s not what Burks told him in April and he essentially dared Ryan to fire him.

“I do not wish to have my ‘resignation’ be construed as a ‘constructive termination,’” Conroy wrote. “You may wish to outright ‘fire’ me, if you have the authority to do so, but should you wish to terminate my services, it will be without my offer of resignation.”

For the House chaplain to push back so publicly against the House speaker is remarkable. And it represents an escalation in a fight that Ryan’s office had probably hoped would peter out. 

“My personal sense is this was a fight not worth having from Paul Ryan’s standpoint,” said Matthew Wilson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University and an expert on religion and politics.

“It’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth,” Wilson said, and will now be difficult for Ryan to “extricate himself gracefully.”

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