Paul Ryan Faces Backlash After House Chaplain Controversy

May 04, 2018May 04, 2018

House Speaker Paul Paul reversed course on Thursday, agreeing to keep Fr. Patrick Conroy as the House chaplain after the priest alleged anti-Catholic bias on behalf of Ryan's chief of staff. 

According to the Washington Post, Conroy, who was asked to step down last month by Paul Ryan, sent the speaker his letter of resignation. Within hours, Ryan had backed down, ending the possibility of what the speaker feared would be a vicious fight over the issue. Nevertheless, Ryan defended his original decision and continued to question whether Conroy was delivering sufficient pastoral services to the entire House. 

"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 Thursday afternoon. "My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution. To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves. 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. I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House."

In response, many liberal Catholics are angry about Ryan's attempt to fire the House chaplain. One of the nation's leading Catholic civil rights groups, for instance, has called on Paul Ryan's chief of staff to resign after he allegedly made "anti-Catholic comments to the House chaplain" in April. According to the group, Ryan's chief of staff, in private, expressed wishes to have a chaplain who "wasn't Catholic."

Paul Ryan is himself a Catholic. And Conroy, a Roman Catholic priest, is from the Jesuit order. It is quite possible that Ryan believed Conroy, who generally sides with the Democratic party on political and economic issues, was too "political" and therefore not fitted to continue as a chaplain for members of both parties in the House. 

Ryan, himself a Catholic, was supported by many faithful Catholics who hold firm to the Church's teaching on human sexuality (among other things). Lifesite News, for instance, wrote a story with the headline "Paul Ryan boots pro-gay Jesuit as U.S. House chaplain." 

According to Lifesite, Conroy has expressed opinions that contradict the teachings of the Church, particularly on LGBTQ issues. His views on homosexuality and gay marriage seem, they say, to coincide with the prominent views of fellow Jesuit Fr. James Martin, who publicly expresses views directly in opposition to Church teaching.

“Now, we have theology on all this stuff and the answer is ‘gays can never engage in this and can never be married,’” Conroy once said. “But that’s a theology that goes back centuries before there was any understanding of human psychology, human individuality, human sexuality and all those kinds of understandings of the human psychosis, and the human person that weren’t as complete prior to these kinds of advances in understanding.”

 According to Conroy, “The problem ... facing the Catholic Church is ... what hope does that ever give for a gay or lesbian person who desires just as a heterosexual person desires to commit their life to someone in whom, as Catholics, they have found the presence of the love of Christ; the presence of the meaning of their life in that person.”

Nevertheless, despite the fact that Conroy has expressed views contrary to the teachings of the Church, many lawmakers and observers believed the priest's ousting was a symptom of "anti-Catholic bias." 

Conroy is the second Catholic priest to serve as House chaplain, after the Rev. Daniel Coughlin, who was chosen for the position in 2000 after a months-long protest by Catholic lawmakers. Although a Catholic priest had been recommended for the post, Republican leaders instead chose a Presbyterian minister. After a fight ensued, Coughlin was eventually chosen for the post, thereby making history as the first Catholic chaplain in American history. 

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