The chaplain of the US House of Representatives has been dismissed, apparently at the request of House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Fr Patrick Conroy, a Jesuit priest, wrote to the Speaker: “As you have requested, I hereby offer my resignation as the 60th Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives.”
Fr Conroy added: “The position is one which I did not seek nor strive to assume, but I have seen it as a blessing and I have considered it one of the great privileges of my life.”
The move has been criticised by congressmen of both parties. Democrat Joe Crowley told NBC News: “As someone who is a personal friend of Father Pat’s, as a lot of Democrats and Republicans are, I find it outrageous that he would be fired.” Republican Walter Jones said: “It is just a sad commentary on America in the House that is supposed to be the House of the People – if we want to protect freedom of speech, a prayer here, then where are we going to protect it?”
The chaplain opens the House of Representatives with a prayer each day; he also offers counselling to congressmen and their aides.
According to Rep. Crowley, Fr Conroy “would be the first chaplain of the House of Representatives in the history of the United States” to be sacked.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who Ryan consulted, has made it clear she disagreed with Fr Conroy’s sacking.
Last November, Fr Conroy gave a prayer which included the words: “As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, 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.”
He continued: “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.” This was seen as criticising the Republican measure.
Ryan’s spokeswoman Ashlee Strong said this was not the reason for Fr Conroy being dismissed.
A letter is circulating amongst congressmen, to be sent to the Speaker asking for his reasons for Fr Conroy’s dismissal.