Politics of prayer become divisive as congressional chaplain ousted

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., sought Friday to defend his dismissal of the House chaplain, a decision that has roiled the chamber in recent days, with some members of both parties questioning his motives.

At a closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Friday morning, Ryan said he had received a couple of complaints about the Rev. Patrick Conroy and thought replacing the Catholic priest was in the best interest of the institution, according to those in the room.

The Rev. Patrick Conroy, a Roman Catholic priest from the Jesuit order, has been forced out after seven years as House chaplain by Speaker Paul Ryan, following complaints by some lawmakers who claimed he had become too political, among other instances praying for fairness in congressional tax legislation.
House Speaker Paul Ryan denies there were political motives behind his dismissal of the Rev. Patrick Conroy, but the issue has blown up in recent days as congressional members have learned that the priest's departure wasn't voluntary.
House Speaker Paul Ryan denies there were political motives behind his dismissal of the Rev. Patrick Conroy, but the issue has blown up in recent days as congressional members have learned that the priest’s departure wasn’t voluntary.

Ryan also told colleagues that the dismissal was not motivated by Conroy’s political views or a prayer that the Jesuit gave in November on the House floor that stirred controversy when the chamber was debating a tax bill.

“He said it was absolutely not political,” said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, describing Ryan’s remarks after leaving the meeting. He declined to comment further on the issue.

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., said Ryan told members “that there were concerns expressed to him, the speaker, from a large number of members that their pastoral needs were not being met by Father Conroy.”

Conroy’s departure was announced early last week, but the issue has blown up in recent days as members have learned that he is not leaving voluntarily but at the request of Ryan.

PRAYER SEEN AS DIVISIVE

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who stood up in Friday’s meeting to ask Ryan for an explanation, said afterward that he was not satisified with the speaker’s response.

“I’ve seen no evidence that he should have been removed,” King said. “To me it was not a satisfactory answer.”

Entering the House chamber for votes Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declined to address her discussion with Ryan about the dismissal, putting the onus on him.

“You’ll have to ask the speaker about the chaplain. But it’s really a sad state of affairs,” she said.

As chaplain, Conroy’s public role is to offer the opening prayer each day the House is in session – but whose private role, far more importantly, is to serve as pastoral counsel to the entire community on the House side of the Capitol.

In an interview with The New York Times, Conroy said he did not know whether politics were behind his departure, but he pointed to a prayer he had given on the House…

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