DemDaily: Of Prayers and Promises

May 4, 2018

The House Chaplain is normally a non-controversial position, but the whirlwind surrounding the resignation of Reverend Patrick J. Conroy three weeks ago has managed to shift the spotlight from the daily White House controversies - if only momentarily.

Chaplains are elected to two-year terms at the beginning of each Congress, and selected as individuals, and "not as representatives of any religious body or denominational entity," or subject to party considerations.

The position dates back to the first convening of Congress in 1789, and is authorized under the Constitution, which states that the House and Senate may each choose their "officers," with no restrictions.

As of 2011, all House Chaplains have been Christian but can be members of any religion or faith group, and Guest Chaplains have represented many different religious groups, including Judaism and Islam.

Reverend Patrick J. Conroy, S.J., 68, was sworn in by unanimous confirmation as the 60th Chaplain of the House of Representatives on May 25, 2011, and is the first Jesuit priest to hold the position.

The Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives is chosen to "perform ceremonial, symbolic, and pastoral duties," and Is responsible for opening the House proceedings with prayer, and serves as spiritual advisor to the 435 lawmakers and thousands of congressional staffers. He or she also arranges memorial services for the House and its staff, and may perform marriage  ceremonies for House members.

The Issue
The issue at the heart of the controversy purportedly concerned a November 6, 2017 prayer by Reverend Conroy on the first day of the markup on the GOP's tax bill, and urged lawmakers to ensure the legislation did not exacerbate the nation's class disparities.

"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." --  House Chaplain Reverend Patrick J. Conroy

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) was said to have taken issue with the prayer, delivered on the House floor, as being critical of the GOP tax-cut bill.

Image: The Daily Beast


April 15, 2018: Conroy tendered his resignation, initially announced as a retirement, to be effective May 24, 2018.

Days later it was revealed that Conroy was actually asked to resign at the request of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), as delivered by his Chief of Staff Jonathan Burks, who, according to Conroy, said, "Maybe it's time we had a Chaplain that isn't Catholic."

April 27, 2018: A letter from over 100 Members of Congress was presented to Ryan demanding an explanation for forcing the priest into retirement.

May 3, 2018:  Reverend Conroy sent a letter to Ryan rescinding his resignation and announced his intention to remain in the role.

While defending his original decision and questions as to whether Conroy was delivering sufficient "pastoral services," Speaker Ryan relented and reversed course yesterday, agreeing to keep Reverend Conroy on as House Chaplain.

Whether the incident is indicative of Ryan's imposed personal opinions and abuse of his leadership position, or a sign of the larger divisions within Congress itself, we will never know.

Regardless, Ryan promised to "sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House."

If only all decisions were truly made for the good of the whole ...

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: The Hill, Washington Post, Daily Beast, NBC, Wikipedia

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