House Chaplain Withdraws Resignation Amid Questions About Pastoral Care

The House chaplain, Father Patrick Conroy, rescinded his resignation Thursday and House Speaker Paul Ryan said Conroy will continue in his position.

House Chaplain Patrick Conroy has changed his mind about resigning. On Thursday, we learned the chaplain, a Jesuit priest, rescinded his mid-April resignation. He was to have wrapped up his stint as the House of Representatives’ chaplain on May 24.

Now, it appears he will stay on, after House Speaker Paul Ryan accepted Conroy’s notification.

But the question about what led to the resignation and un-resignation remains.

As Conroy tells it, Ryan never spoke to him about problems with Conroy’s work before demanding — through his chief of staff — that Conroy submit his resignation. Conroy claimed he asked whether the request for his resignation was “for cause,” but was told something “dismissively” along the lines of, “maybe it’s time that we had a chaplain that wasn’t a Catholic.”

If I were a Catholic, I’d certainly find that comment offensive…if that’s what was actually said. Conroy also claimed Ryan’s chief of staff mentioned his November prayer and an interview with the National Journal Daily.

The chief of staff, incidentally, says he remembers the conversation differently and said he was “disappointed by the misunderstanding.”

In any case, when Ryan’s chief of staff allegedly told Conroy that Ryan wanted him to resign, Conroy says he submitted that resignation.

The infamous November prayer

As the House was debating the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” one of Conroy’s prayers included this:

“God of the universe, we give You thanks for giving us another day. Bless the Members of this assembly as they set upon the work of these hours, of these days. . . . 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. 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.”

It’s not clear whether the prayer — particularly the assertion that some have achieved “great success” while others “continue to struggle” and the hope that there would not be “winners and losers” but “benefits balanced and shared” may well have gone against Ryan’s ideals.

The fact that anyone would wish for no winners and losers certainly seems to go against the ideals of politicians on both sides of the aisle these days. It’s almost as if every maneuver is treated like a play in a football game rather than an attempt to serve constituents.

But that’s not exactly a case of a minister preaching politics: it’s a case of a minister hoping that good for all will come from whatever Congress does. That’s not partisan, nor should it be.

Most of the time, when someone claims that pastors should stay out of politics, they’re making the claim because they don’t like the side they think the pastor is on.

But I think we all should be able to agree that, whenever possible, Congress should be looking out for everyone’s best interests, not those of just any one side.

Ryan’s public statements apparently prompted Conroy’s change of heart

When Ryan began making public comments about Conroy’s controversial resignation, what was said was apparently enough to make Conroy change his mind.

On Monday, Ryan made a statement about “firing” Conroy:

“This is not about politics or prayers. It was about pastoral services. And a number of our members felt like the pastoral services were not being adequately served or offered.”

Ryan claimed he’d been getting feedback “for quite a while from members,” but Conroy claims Ryan never addressed that feedback with him.

In the letter to Ryan rescinding that resignation, Conroy wrote, “I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House chaplain.”

In other words, it sounds not like a performance review gone horribly wrong, but like a performance review that never happened at all.

Conroy also wrote:

“Had I known of any failure in providing my ministry to the House, I would have attempted to make the appropriate adjustments, but in no case would I have agreed to submit a letter of resignation without being given that opportunity. Therefore, I wish to serve the remainder of my term as House Chaplain, unless terminated ‘for cause.’”

It seems very odd to me, if this were so important to Ryan, that Ryan wouldn’t have met directly with Conroy.

If Conroy had not been meeting the spiritual needs of members of the House, and if that failure had been going on “for quite a while,” as Ryan said, why wasn’t that addressed with Conroy immediately?

On the other hand, if Conroy is leaving out critical information and his alleged ongoing shortcomings were addressed, why would Ryan suddenly allow the resignation to be rescinded at all?

Something doesn’t add up here.

Ryan and Conroy are due to meet face-to-face next week. It sounds like it will be a meeting that is long overdue.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that discussion, wouldn’t you?

I’d also like to know what our politicians want in their chaplains. If a chaplain isn’t allowed to bring up the concerns of all citizens when praying that God will guide lawmakers to make decisions that are good for all, we have yet another serious problem in Washington.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.