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Answered prayers: House chaplain gets job back after Ryan backs down

The move comes a week after Ryan's move to push out the chaplain created a firestorm among lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
by Rebecca Shabad and Alex Moe /  / Updated 

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WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul Ryan reversed himself Thursday and said that the Rev. Patrick Conroy, the chaplain of the House of Representatives whom Ryan forced out of his position last month, can keep his job.

Ryan's announcement came shortly after Conroy told Ryan that he was rescinding his resignation.

The move comes a week Ryan's move to push him out created a firestorm among lawmakers on Capitol Hill. By Friday of last week, more than 100 House members had signed onto a letter to the speaker's office demanding an explanation for Ryan's decision.

"I have accepted Father Conroy's letter and decided that he will remain in his position as Chaplain of the House," Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement Thursday.

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Ryan said that his original decision to ask for Conroy's resignation was made in what he believed was "the best interest of the 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," Ryan added. "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."

The move came roughly two hours after Conroy released a letter stressing his intent to stay in his position.

"I have never been disciplined, nor reprimanded, nor have I ever heard a complaint about my ministry during my time as House chaplain," Conroy wrote in a two-page letter to Ryan that was obtained by NBC News.

Conroy also claimed in the letter that Ryan chief of staff Jonathan Burks told him, when asked why he was being let go, "something like 'maybe it's time that we had a Chaplain that wasn't a Catholic.'" Ryan himself is Catholic.

“Recently, on April 27, you publicly indicated that my 'pastoral services' to some members were lacking and that I did not offer adequate 'spiritual counseling' to others. This is not the reason that Mr. Burks gave me when asking for my 'resignation'" two weeks earlier, Conroy wrote.

"In fact, no such criticism has even been leveled against me during my tenure as House chaplain. At the very least, if it were, I could have attempted to correct such 'faults.' In retracting my resignation, I wish to do just that," he added.

Burks pushed back at Conroy's claim. "I strongly disagree with Father Conroy's recollection of our conversation," he said in a statement Thursday "I am disappointed by the misunderstanding, but wish him the best as he continues to serve the House."

As Conroy left the Capitol Thursday afternoon ahead of Ryan's decision, he would not answer questions from NBC News and another TV network about his decision to rescind his resignation, and whether he believed anti-Catholic sentiments exist in the House.

"I'm not commenting. The story is not over," he said.

The chaplain himself had suggested in an interview with The New York Times last week that he may have been ousted because of a prayer he delivered on the House floor last November about the GOP tax bill. Ryan this week dismissed the claim that his decision had anything to do with politics.

"Father Conroy is a good man and I am grateful for his many years of service to the House. This had nothing to do — this is not about politics or prayers, it was about pastoral services," Ryan said then. "A number of our members felt like the pastoral services were not being adequately served or offered."

Then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, nominated Conroy as chaplain in May 2011, in consultation with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and he was sworn in that month.

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