House Speaker Paul Ryan agreed to reinstate the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy as House chaplain Thursday after the priest defiantly withdrew his forced resignation in a letter alleging anti-Catholic bias by Ryan's chief of staff and daring Ryan to fire him instead.
"I have accepted Father Conroy's letter and decided that he will remain in his position as chaplain of the House," Ryan said in a statement cited by The New York Times. His response came just hours after Conroy sent the letter, a report in The Washington Post said.
"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 added in his statement.
When Ryan, who is Catholic, asked Conroy to step down last month he explained that the priest's removal wasn't a political decision but simply because he was failing to provide "pastoral services" for the House.
"This is not about politics or prayers, it's about pastoral services," he told The Weekly Standard. "A number of our members were not being adequately served or offered services, so I made a decision on behalf of the House, on behalf of making sure we could have adequate pastoral services."
In his letter to Ryan on Thursday however, Conroy said he was not made aware of any concerns with his job performance, had consulted with a lawyer and dared Ryan to officially fire him stating his cause.
"I was elected as House Chaplain on May 25, 2011, and I have honorably served in that role since that time. I was re-elected House Chaplain in every succeeding Congress. I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House Chaplain. It is my desire to continue to serve as House Chaplain in this 115th United States Congress to the end of my current two-year term, and beyond unless my services are officially terminated (however that is properly done) or I am not re-elected to the position by the membership of the House," he wrote.
Conroy further claimed that Ryan's chief of staff, Jonathan Burks made anti-Catholic remarks to him when he initially raised concern about why he was being asked to resign.
"While you never spoke with me in person, nor did you send me any correspondence, on Friday, April 13th, 2018, your Chief of Staff, Jonathan Burks, came to me and informed me that you were asking for my letter of resignation. 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 a Catholic.' He also mentioned my November prayer and an interview with the National Journal Daily," Conroy wrote.
Burks disputed this telling of events, saying in a statement, "I strongly disagree with Father Conroy's recollection of our conversation. I am disappointed by the misunderstanding, but wish him the best as he continues to serve the House."
Last November, Conroy said in a prayer that the upcoming tax reform legislation needed to be fair and prayed that representatives would ensure "there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans."
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and an editor at large of America magazine, told The New York Times that it was "only just" that Conroy rescinded his resignation.
"Father Conroy's firing was unjust, apparently motivated by no little anti-Catholicism, as his new letter indicates," Martin said. "Speaker Ryan should have known that Jesuits have never been pushovers, especially when justice is at stake."
Conroy has accepted some responsibility for the situation with Ryan noting that they planned to sit down together next Tuesday.
"We both acknowledged that we need to talk about how I can improve my performance so the chaplaincy operates for as many members as possible," he said. "I don't know any pastor or any chaplain anywhere that doesn't have some detractors. That is the human condition. My problem is I was never told that that was the case."