(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House chaplain who Speaker Paul Ryan tried to dismiss rescinded his resignation Thursday, and the lame-duck speaker said he’ll let the chaplain stay, seeking to head off controversy just months before a difficult midterm election for Republicans.
Catholic priest Patrick Conroy defended his seven-year tenure as chaplain in a letter to Ryan, saying he wants to remain at least through his current two-year term unless he is “terminated” or not re-elected by House members. The letter to Ryan followed Conroy’s April 15 resignation letter that he said he felt pressured to offer.
“You may wish to outright ‘fire’ me, if you have the authority to do so,” Conroy said in his new letter Thursday. “But should you wish to terminate my services, it will be without my offer of resignation, as you requested.”
Conroy’s letter described Ryan’s chief of staff, Jonathan Burks, as requesting the chaplain’s resignation in a conversation on April 13. Conroy said Burks mentioned a prayer the priest gave regarding last year’s tax legislation and “dismissively” suggested that the position should be filled by someone who isn’t Catholic.
Ryan responded in a statement saying he decided the chaplain will remain in his position. He said he intends to “sit down” with Conroy to put the conflict behind them.
“It is my job as speaker to do what is best for this body,” Ryan said, “and I know that this body is not well served by a protracted fight over such an important post.”
Ryan’s office also issued a statement from Burks that said, "I strongly disagree with Father Conroy’s recollection of our conversation. I am disappointed by the misunderstanding, but wish him the best as he continues to serve the House.”
It’s not clear whether the speaker of the House has the authority to fire the chaplain. The position is among a handful that are elected by House members, according to the House rules, but it’s not listed as one that the speaker can terminate.
Conroy’s reversal threatened to sow conflict among Republicans already on edge about who will be their next leader following Ryan’s retirement after November’s election, when the GOP is at risk of losing the House majority. Some Republicans including Peter King of New York offered strong support for the priest after he sent his resignation letter last month, while others such as Mark Walker of North Carolina criticized his ministry.
Ryan, of Wisconsin, previously tried to sidestep public questions about the chaplain by saying there were member complaints about his “pastoral services.” Conroy said Thursday that wasn’t the reason Burks gave in seeking his resignation, and said he “would have attempted to make the appropriate adjustments" had he known about any shortcoming.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley of New York said in a statement he’s glad Conroy will remain, adding, "because there are conflicting reports and questions left unanswered, we need a full understanding of what happened." He has already called for a select committee to examine the events.
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