Paul Ryan

Democrats say that House Speaker Paul Ryan forced out the House chaplain, the Rev. Patrick Conroy, over a prayer for lawmakers to consider economic justice in crafting tax reform.

Conroy, a Roman Catholic priest from the Jesuit order, had served as the chamber's chaplain since 2011. He offered his resignation last week at Ryan’s urging.

In his letter of resignation, he called his seven years of House service “one of the great privileges of my life.”

Ryan spokeswoman Ashlee Strong would not reveal the speaker's reasons for forcing Conroy out, but Democratic lawmakers and other Capitol Hill observers say his ouster was prompted by Conroy’s opening prayer before the House of Representatives’ Nov. 6 session. On that day, the House was on the verge of passing the controversial tax reform bill that gave 80 percent of tax breaks to the nation’s top 1 percent of earners. 

Conroy prayed: “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 (lawmakers’) efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

Vanity Fair quipped that the prayer amounted to “tax-cut” blasphemy in Ryan’s world.

Although Ryan also is Roman Catholic, he diverges from Vatican doctrine when it comes to aiding the poor, the sick, and the other powerless groups to whom Jesus devoted his ministry, as recounted in the New Testament. Ryan’s theology is more closely aligned with that of evangelical Christians, whose belief structure centers on “sins,” specifically those of same-sex attraction, birth control and women’s reproductive choice.

Their political obsession with those “sins” draws criticism from non-fundamentalists for treating as lesser the sins of murder, adultery, stealing, lying, cheating and greed.

Conroy’s more traditional hierarchy of religious ideals made him unpopular with the House’s strong contingent of fundamentalist Christian lawmakers. New York magazine reported that those House members particularly were outraged by Conroy’s invitation to a Muslim to deliver the opening prayer on one occasion.

Strong tried to deflect charges that religious and political disagreements were behind Ryan’s request for Conroy’s resignation. She said Ryan consulted with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the firing and that Pelosi could have blocked it, if she wished.

But Pelosi's office insisted she made it clear that she disagreed with the decision, saying she only heard positive comments from lawmakers about Conroy.

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