WASHINGTON (CNS) — The apparent forced resignation of the chaplain who tends to the spiritual needs of the U.S. House of Representatives and is Catholic has drawn fire against the Speaker of the House, who also is Catholic.
Earlier in April, news trickled out that Jesuit Father Patrick Conroy, a beloved figure on Capitol Hill, was set to retire in May, but various news outlets on April 26 began reporting that he was “ousted” and forced to resign by House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin.
NBC News reported April 26 that it had obtained a letter penned by the chaplain to Speaker Ryan saying: “As you have requested, I hereby offer my resignation as the 60th Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives.”
Father Conroy’s office declined an interview request by Catholic News Service about the resignation, but in an interview published by The New York Times, he said he was asked to resign but didn’t know why and he expects to leave the post he’s held since 2011 by May 24.
In a June 2017 interview with CNS, he said he had opinions about politics, like most people, but knew his job was focused on his role helping members of Congress without paying attention to political stripes.
“I can think anything I want,” he said. “But I can’t say it. Some people say, ‘You’re there, why don’t you say prophetic things?’ If I did, a week from now, there would be a different person here and nothing would have changed.”
Some speculate that the following prayer is what led to his ouster.
“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,” he prayed as lawmakers considered the tax bill in November.
Via Twitter, fellow Jesuit Father James Martin, editor at large of America, the Jesuits’ national magazine, said if that prayer is what led to the firing, “then a Catholic Speaker of the House fired a Catholic chaplain for praying for the poor.”
Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service and executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying organization, in a message posted via Twitter, said she was “outraged.”
“From my work with Father Conroy, it was clear that his ministry is bipartisan, and he holds the needs of all — including both Republicans and Democrats — in his heart,” she said.
She said she had “serious questions” about the firing, whether it was for the prayer surrounding the tax vote or because Father Conroy had invited a Muslim cleric to pray.
Maureen Ferguson, senior policy adviser with The Catholic Association — a Washington-based group that describes itself as “dedicated to being a faithful Catholic voice in the public square” — defended Speaker Ryan and said anyone who knows him “knows he is a devoted Catholic.”
She said in a statement that the criticisms surrounding Ryan’s “decision to ask the House chaplain to step aside are baseless and downright absurd. Reportedly, there were numerous complaints from members about the pastoral care offered by the chaplain, and he was asked to leave based on job performance alone. The Speaker attempted to give Father Conroy a gracious and dignified exit, but as is frequently the case in Washington, much ado is being made about nothing.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley proposed on April 27 establishing a committee to look into the ouster, but House Republicans overwhelmingly voted to kill the resolution.
Outrage, however, continued on Twitter and beyond trying to save the chaplain’s job. Father Conroy told The New York Times he wasn’t going to question the decision.
The priest was the second Catholic in history to hold the House chaplain’s spot. Father Daniel Coughlin was the first Catholic to occupy the position and was looking to retire from the post in 2010 when then-House Speaker John Boehner had been in talks with fellow Catholic and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi about finding a Jesuit they could both support.
Father Conroy was approved unanimously as the 60th chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives May 25, 2011.
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Shame on Paul Ryan and Mike Pence who say they are Catholic. What Catholic teaching and Commandments do they follow? What a tragedy that non-catholics think this a representation of Catholicism.
Per the comment by terry gumpper: Perhaps you inadvertently forgot to include support for capital punishment? That presumably fits in your ethic but is frequently/obviously left out by pro-life voices. Given that you have elevated school vouchers to Catholic dogma I would hope you are as fervent in your opposition to the death penalty and the Catholics, like the House speaker, who support it.
The dilemma faced by the Catholic voter is that neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party represents the full spectrum of Catholic Moral and Social Teachings.
Arguably, the Republican Party more closely approximates Catholic Moral Teachings.
Arguably, the Democratic Party more closely approximates Catholic Social Teachings.
Congressman Paul Ryan’s greatest achievement is presiding over the House of Representatives when it – with neither transparency nor debate – voted along partisan lines for a change to the tax laws that makes a long-term commitment to dramatic tax cuts for the rich, a short-term commitment for moderate tax relief for the middle class and does virtually nothing for the poor. This tax regime cannot be reconciled with long-standing Catholic social teaching or with the more recent pronouncements of Pope Francis. Whether or not Congressman Ryan is a “practicing” Catholic or a “devout” Catholic is irrelevant to the incontrovertible fact that the public policy he advocated over his congressional career was never informed by Catholic Social teaching, notwithstanding his occasional misuse of the term “solidarity.” Is Congressman Ryan’s failure to advocate for public policies that are consistent with Catholic Social Teaching any more egregious than a politician who while ostensibly a “devout” Catholic or a “practicing” Catholic fails to support a Pro Life agenda?
Congressman Ryan betrayed his co-religionist, Patrick Conroy, S.J., in order to appease Congressman Mark Walker, an ordained Baptist minister, and those of his ilk, who regard the venerable Catholic tradition of clerical celibacy as a disqualification for true ministry. Ryan’s betrayal was an act of political expediency that is characteristic of all who seek an alliance between Catholics and the Religious Right. Catholic Social Teaching is incompatible with the “Gospel of Prosperity,” the division of humankind into the Elect and the Double-Damned, and the pursuit of Dominionism, the United States governed based on an evangelical Christian interpretation of the Bible. The “Seamless Web” of the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago remains the optimal approach to a “Catholic” public policy. Catholics are called to walk a tightrope in contemporary American politics. Neither the Republican Party, nor the Democratic Party stands for a consistent “life ethic.” And nothing in the ecumenical spirit coming out of Vatican II requires Roman Catholics to compromise venerable Catholic traditions to appease antagonistic heretics.
It is terrible we have a speaker of the House like Mr. Paul Ryan of state of WI.
Shame on him for firing a Jesuit and his attempting to destroy Medicare, social security. He’s no Tip O’Neil, the greatest house speaker and great Roman Catholic who went up against Mr. Reagan, a fallen away Catholic like Mr. Pence.
Catholics SHOULD be upset because this priest was always talking to Congress about Social Justice But NEVER ONCE confronted members about their complete disregard of Basic Catholic Teaching. Did He ever in his term confront even the SO CALLED Catholic leadership about their support of Abortion or artificial birth control or other basic teaching? Did he ever ask for their support for vouchers for schools NEVER. ANOTHER FAKE CATHOLIC!!!!!!!!! WE NEED true Catholic leadership in this country starting with the Bishops who care about illegals but not the soul of the citizens. Yes, it would be a sin not to care for people BUT THE mortal SIN of supporting Abortion which at time of death if unforgiven condemns a soul to HELL I would think would be important to point out to these leaders!!!!!!!