Ousted US House chaplain to stay on after uproar

US House Chaplain Patrick Conroy, seen here with lawmakers in 2014, has retracted his resignation after being pressured to leave by House Speaker Paul Ryan

Washington (AFP) – A Catholic reverend whose ouster as US House chaplain sparked a political uproar said Thursday he was retracting his resignation, in a new twist to a case that has triggered a rare show of unity among divided Washington lawmakers.

Father Patrick Conroy’s sudden departure last month sparked angry accusations that Speaker Paul Ryan had pressured him to leave in part because of a prayer urging economic fairness ahead of a vote on tax cuts.

In a two-page letter to the speaker, the Jesuit priest said he wished to serve out his term, arguing he had succumbed to pressure from Ryan’s staff, believing the speaker had the power to fire him, but later came to believe he was forced out without due cause.

“I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House Chaplain,” he wrote.

Ryan had strongly denied the chaplain was forced to resign for his politics, saying lawmakers had complained about his lack of interaction, but in a surprise move the speaker announced Thursday that he accepted Conroy’s letter and was reversing his decision. 

“It is my job as speaker to do what is best for this body, and I know that this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post,” Ryan said. 

Conroy’s retraction letter coincidentally came on what is recognized as the National Day of Prayer, when clergy from several faiths gathered with President Donald Trump at the White House.

In his letter, Conroy appeared to dare Ryan to oust him.

“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, as you requested,” he wrote.

Some 150 lawmakers, including Democrats and Republican, had written Ryan demanding an explanation for the ouster, with some warning that the decision reflected poorly on the House of Representatives.

“There was no good reason to force him out,” House Democrat Carol Shea-Porter wrote on Twitter after learning of Conroy’s retraction. “Ryan should let him stay.”

The House chaplain, a position dating back to 1789, is elected by the chamber’s lawmakers. There have been only two Catholics in the post: Conroy and his immediate predecessor Daniel Coughlin.