Ryan denies House chaplain forced out over politics

Lawmakers demand answers on chaplain firing

Greg Nash

Conroy is just the second Catholic priest to serve as House chaplain, following the Rev. Daniel P. Coughlin, who was chosen for the post in 2000 after a months-long protest by Catholic lawmakers.

Lawmakers exiting a GOP meeting Friday said Ryan told them that Conroy was forced out after lawmakers complained that had not been adequately tending to the pastoral needs of lawmakers. The priest, whose last day will be May 24, tells the New York Times that "Catholic members on both sides are furious".

Democrats and Republicans want to know whether Conroy was sacked because Ryan objected to a prayer Conroy offered in the House chamber on November 6, as the Ways and Means Committee began work on a trillion-dollar, deficit-financed tax bill created to benefit the wealthiest Americans.

Rep. Mark Walker, of Alabama, said he has heard of members who took issue with Conroy, as claimed by Ryan, and suggested a non-Catholic would be better for the post of Chaplain.

According to Democrats who spoke with Politico this week, Republican leaders may also have been upset with other recent moves from Conroy.

Which got the attention of a fellow Jesuit priest.

Conroy resigned April 15 after he spent almost seven years praying at the outset of House sessions. "I do not want to debate this", he said. The speaker said it was just because certain people felt he was not complying with their requests or was not giving them good counseling. "(Our reps)", he tweeted.

"Many of us like Father Conroy but we feel like he didn't do anything", an unidentified GOP member told CNN. I never heard that from anyone.

WALTER JONES: Oh, yeah, I spoke to him yesterday on the floor.

On Friday, Walker said that celibacy is not a disqualifcation for pastor but that "there are some members who had some issues reaching out to Conroy".

"There are Catholics who are Republicans and there are Catholics who are Democrats", he said in the Times.

Ryan read that prayer as a "tilt to the Democrats" because it implied criticisms of the tax cuts being more beneficial to the rich, Connolly said Republican lawmakers told him.

Walker, a Southern Baptist minister, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Walker and co-chairman of the Prayer Caucus, didn't explicitly say a Catholic could not serve as House chaplain.

She said Ryan consulted with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the firing and that Pelosi could have blocked it, if she wished.

A congressional aide for Mr. Ryan said he wasn't ousted over any specific prayer.

The circumstances of Conroy's departure have set off a storm of angry responses from Democratic members. Democrat Gerry Connolly of Virginia said several members took it personally. The speaker denies that politics played any role in his request for Conroy's resignation.

A letter is circulating amongst congressmen, to be sent to the Speaker asking for his reasons for Fr Conroy's dismissal. Apparently, a Muslim praying to lawmakers is more serious to the Republican party than that pesky separation of church or state clause in our constitution.

Cleaver noted that the Jesuit's career and reputation is forever damaged by the episode, "especially when a Catholic priest dismissed - oh jeez, all this other stuff that's been going on with these priests, and this is terrible, this is absolutely very bad".

Latest News