Lawmakers demand answers on chaplain firing

Lawmakers demand answers on chaplain firing
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is demanding answers from Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment House Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea MORE (R-Wis.) about why he forced House Chaplain Patrick Conroy to resign.

The group, led by Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyTrump abandons plan to dissolve Office of Personnel Management: report Democrats debate scope of impeachment charges House Democrats rebuke State Department for 'reversal' on Israeli settlements MORE (D-Va.), is planning to send a letter to Ryan to ask for a “description of the process followed to arrive at the decision and a justification for that decision.”

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“We believe that, absent such details, questions will inevitably arise about the politicization of the process for hiring and dismissing a House chaplain,” the lawmakers wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Hill. “Not revealing such details could also risk resurrecting prior questions of religious bias.”

“Absent transparency, we are also concerned about the implicit damage done to the reputation of the House chaplain personally,” the lawmakers add. “Continued silence on this matter could allow unfair and utterly unfounded inferences to be made about his character and the evenhandedness of the House on dealing in matters of faith.”

Reps. Walter JonesWalter Beaman JonesRepublican Greg Murphy wins special election in NC's 3rd District Early voting extended in NC counties impacted by Dorian ahead of key House race The Hill's Campaign Report: North Carolina special election poses test for GOP ahead of 2020 MORE (R-N.C.), Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturAppropriators face crucial weekend to reach deal Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases MORE (D-Ohio), and Carol Shea-PorterCarol Shea-PorterThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority New Hampshire New Members 2019 Democrat Chris Pappas wins New Hampshire House seat MORE (D-N.H.) are also spearheading the effort; the letter is currently being circulated to other colleagues to collect more signatures.

The effort comes after The Hill reported on Thursday that Conroy’s retirement — announced by the Speaker’s office last week — was not voluntary, as lawmakers had initially believed.

Republican and Democratic sources say that Conroy, who has been in the role since 2011, was forced out by Ryan.

Catholic members on both sides of the aisle were furious to learn that Conroy was pushed out against his will, according to multiple sources, including one Republican lawmaker and one Democratic member.

It’s unclear exactly what led to the chaplain’s dismissal.

A Democratic lawmaker, as well as a Democratic aide, said that Conroy was ousted because he offered a prayer on the House floor that could have been perceived as being critical of the GOP tax-cut bill. 

A senior GOP aide said Conroy’s exit “was not because of any particular prayer."

Ryan, who is also Catholic, has appointed Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), an Air Force Reserve chaplain, as well as Reps. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) and Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), both former pastors, to lead the search effort to find a replacement.