House chaplain Father Patrick Conroy rescinded his resignation on Thursday, nearly a week after news broke that he had tendered his resignation to Speaker Paul Ryan at the speaker's request. But Ryan announced later in the day that he would allow Conroy to keep his job, saying that he accepted the chaplain's explanation for why he should stay.
"I have accepted Father Conroy's letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House," Ryan said.
In his letter to Speaker Ryan explaining the priest's reasoning for his change of heart, Conroy said: "I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House chaplain."
Conroy was asked to resign last month by Ryan's chief of staff, Jonathan Burks. In recalling the conversation, the chaplain said, "I inquired as to whether or not it was 'for cause,' and Mr. Burks mentioned dismissively something like 'maybe it's time that we had a Chaplain that wasn't Catholic. He also mentioned my November prayer and an interview with the National Journal Daily."
The prayer referenced was one given on the House floor during last year's tax cut debates, in which Conroy requested, "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."
Ryan later told Conroy, "Padre, you just got to stay out of politics."
No formal reasoning has been given for Ryan asking Conroy to leave his post. Former chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) stepped down from the selection committee conducting the search for a new chaplain, after comments he made were dubbed "anti-Catholic."
Walker reportedly said that the next chaplain should be "somebody who has a little age, that has adult children, that kind of can connect with the bulk of the body here, Republicans or Democrats, as far as what we're going through back home — you've got your wife, the family, things you encounter — that has some counseling experience or has managed or worked with people, maybe a larger church size, being able to have that understanding or that experience."
Members from both parties have come to the chaplain's defense, questioning why he was asked to resign so abruptly. While opposition to the firing has been public by mostly Democrats, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said that he's been approached privately by conservatives in the House.
He said, "I know for a fact that some members of the Freedom Caucus felt this was handled badly and sends a signal of bigotry they don't want to be associated with. I've never seen members so angry about something in this House in my 10 years. Because it's not only political and not only about your faith. It's personal."
In his rescission letter, Father Conroy pointedly tells Ryan, "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."