WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan has told fellow Republicans that he fired the House chaplain after complaints from members that he wasn’t doing a very good job — not because of pressure over the Rev. Patrick Conroy’s political leanings.
Lawmakers exiting a GOP meeting Friday said Ryan told them that Conroy, an Everett native who graduated from Snohomish High School, was forced out after lawmakers complained he had not been adequately tending to the pastoral needs of lawmakers.
“He had a number of complaints that the chaplain was not meeting the pastoral needs of the members in general,” Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said.
Ryan’s office won’t say why Conroy was asked to resign. It would be the first forced ouster in the history of the House.
While Ryan has the support of most of the chamber’s Republicans, many Democrats are upset about Conroy’s ouster and say politics might be behind it.
Democrats — and Conroy himself — have cited a prayer he offered last fall that called for fairness as the House debated tax cuts as a reason for GOP discontent with his performance.
Last November, Conroy prayed for lawmakers to make sure that “there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”
Conroy told The New York Times that shortly afterward, Ryan warned him to “stay out of politics.”
“He was essentially dismissed for praying and for this very gray and hazy representation that he was not ministering to some of the members,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., himself a clergyman. “Fairness and justice is an inseparable part of the Judeo-Christian theology.”
A prominent Republican was upset, as well.
“I’m not aware of any discontent or any criticism and to be the first House chaplain to be removed in the history of the Congress in the middle of a term raises serious questions. We deserve more of an explanation and why. Was there political pressure?” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., 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. I never heard that from anyone.”
The House chaplain has deep roots in Snohomish County. A 1968 graduate of Snohomish High School, Conroy was born at Everett’s Providence Hospital on Oct. 31, 1950.
The son of Ruth and Stanley Conroy — his late father was an Everett attorney — he attended Everett’s Immaculate Conception School until third grade. He played Little League baseball with Dennis Erickson, a second-generation football coaching legend.
He moved to Virginia with his mother after his parents divorced in 1958, then returned to finish school at Snohomish High.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from California’s Claremont McKenna College, and attended Gonzaga University Law School for a year before entering the Jesuit order in 1973. He finished law school at Gonzaga before being ordained in 1983.
A former chaplain at Georgetown Universtiy, Conroy also worked at Seattle University and, in the 1980s, on the Colville and Spokane Indian reservations.
Before taking the job of U.S. House chaplain in 2011, he was the leader of Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon.
In August 2013, Conroy was back in Snohomish County when he took part in a worship service at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Lake Stevens. In a Herald interview before that visit, Conroy said, “I’m one of the few people that doesn’t have a political tag. That’s a valuable thing. I’m practically the only non-political person on that floor.”
Conroy has served as the chamber’s chaplain since 2011 but offered his resignation last week at Ryan’s urging. He will leave his House service next month.
Democrats Friday sought to create a special committee to investigate “the motivations and actions” behind Ryan’s decision to fire Conroy but the move was killed by a party-line vote.
Conroy’s resignation letter said he was offering to step down at Ryan’s request, calling his seven years of House service “one of the great privileges of my life.”
The chaplain is responsible for opening the House each day with a prayer and offering counseling to lawmakers and aides on the House side of the Capitol.
Herald columnist Julie Muhlstein contributed.