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Paul Ryan 'ousted' House of Representatives pastor who prayed for poor during Republican tax bill

‘Padre, you just got to stay out of politics’

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Friday 27 April 2018 16:04 BST
Chaplain Patrick J. Conroy leads US House of Representative prayer

Speaker Paul Ryan has been accused of ousting the Catholic chaplain of the House of Representatives – allegedly after taking offence to a prayer he delivered that urged politicians to ensure the Republican tax bill did not create “winners and losers”.

Reports said Rev Patrick Conroy resigned two weeks ago, apparently after being personally confronted by Mr Ryan and told to “keep out of politics”. The pastor said he responded by saying he did not believe he was being political and intended to continue his work.

He subsequently resigned, writing in a letter to Mr Ryan that was released to the media: “As you have requested, I hereby offer my resignation as the 60th Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives.”

The ousting of the 67-year-old Mr Conroy, who has served in the post since 2011, has triggered an outcry on Capitol Hill among politicians of various faiths and both parties. Democratic congressman Gerry Connolly and others have written to Mr Ryan, asking that he explain the circumstances of Mr Conroy’s resignation.

Mr Connolly, who represents Virginia’s 11th congressional district, told The Independent that as of Friday morning, the letter had 73 signatures.

“There is a view that Mr Ryan did not want a chaplain who talked about social justice, and he found a way to rid him of ‘this troublesome priest’,” he said. He added that Mr Conroy had offered his services to members of various Christian denominations, as well as members of different faiths.

“It’s very disturbing. Mr Conroy had a very intimate relationship with the members. He blessed their babies, consoled them after a death and counselled them during difficult times,” he said. “It’s censoring a person’s view of Christian teaching.”

Reports suggest Mr Ryan, a fiscal hardliner, is a conservative Catholic and did not agree with the more liberal perspective of Mr Conroy, a Jesuit. He is said to have been particularly irked by a prayer Mr Conroy delivered to the House on 6 November last year, as congress was considering the Republican tax bill, the biggest tax overhaul in three decades and which independent analysts said would most help corporations and wealthy individuals.

In his prayer, Mr Conroy said: “As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, 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 added: “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.”

Mr Conroy’s office said the chaplain, who will continue to serve until 24 May, had no comment. However, he told The New York Times that a week after his 6 November prayer, a member of staff from Mr Ryan’s office came to visit him.

“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.”

He said that soon after that, Mr Ryan, who has also announced his own retirement as Speaker, spoke with Mr Conroy himself and said he had to stay out of politics.

“That is what I have tried to do for seven years. It doesn’t sound political to me,” Mr Conroy said he told Mr Ryan. “If you are hospital chaplain, you are going to pray about health. If you are a chaplain of congress, you are going to pray about what congress is doing.”

The move has angered both Democrats and Republicans. Democratic congressman Joe Crowley of New York told NBC the development was “just outrageous”.

“As someone who is a personal friend of Father Pat’s, as a lot of Democrats and Republicans are, I find it outrageous that he would be fired,” he said. “He would be the first chaplain of the House of Representatives in the history of the United States [who was ousted].”

Paul Ryan announces he will not seek re-election in 2018 midterms

Republican congressman Walter Jones of North Carolina said he also disagreed with Mr Ryan’s actions. “It is just a sad commentary on America in the House that is supposed to be the House of the people – if we want to protect freedom of speech, a prayer here, then where are we going to protect it,” he said.

Mr Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement: “The speaker made the decision he believes to be in the best interest of the House, and he remains grateful for Father Conroy’s many years of service.”

She said the speaker consulted with the minority leader, congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.

But Ms Pelosi’s office disputed that version of events. A spokesperson told The Hill that, while the Democrat had been given advance notice, she “also made it clear to Speaker Ryan that she disagreed with this decision”.

On Friday morning, Mr Ryan reportedly told fellow Republicans that he fired Mr Conroy because members felt like their “pastoral needs” were not being met and not for a political reason. One congressman who attended said Mr Ryan said the decision was not based on politics but because it was “time for a change”.

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