He's been fielding phone calls from people who want to know why he's leaving, but House chaplain Rev. Patrick J. Conroy says he has no idea why House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) asked him to resign earlier this month.
In an interview with The New York Times, Conroy said the message came from Ryan's chief of staff, and he was blindsided by the request. He notified Ryan in an April 15 letter that he was stepping down, at Ryan's request, on May 24. "I certainly wasn't given anything in writing," Conroy said. "Catholic members on both sides are furious." The nonpartisan House chaplain gives a prayer each day the House is in session, and Conroy has held the position since 2011.
Republicans and Democrats are preparing a letter asking Ryan for an explanation. Conroy told the Times that Ryan may have been motivated by his Nov. 6 opening prayer, as the GOP tax bill was being discussed: "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. 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 a week later, a Ryan aide told him they were "upset" by the prayer and he was getting "too political," and Ryan later told him, "Padre, you've got to stay out of politics." Conroy doesn't see the problem. "If you are hospital chaplain, you are going to pray about health," he said. "If you are a chaplain of Congress, you are going to pray about what Congress is doing." Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) told the Times he's "very upset" by Conroy's resignation, and "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. This is not a one-man decision." Catherine Garcia