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Ryan explains decision to dismiss House chaplain

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP GOP group makes late play in Iowa seat once seen as lost Adelsons donated M in September to help GOP in midterms MORE (R-Wis.) told the House Republican Conference Friday morning that he fired Chaplain Patrick Conroy because members felt like their “pastoral needs” were not being met and not for a political reason, according to several Republicans inside the room.

Ryan told members his decision to ask Conroy to step aside had nothing to do with politics, a policy conflict or a prayer.

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A number of lawmakers had approached Ryan and told him they needed someone in the chaplain’s role who could offer more “spiritual counseling,” according to Rep. Duncan HunterDuncan Duane HunterCalifornia Dem hits Trump Jr. over claims of links to extremist groups Poll: Dems lead in 5 critical California House seats GOP Rep. ties opponent to terrorists MORE (R-Calif.), who attended the meeting.

Ryan agreed, he told the members. 

Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonMidterms put GOP centrists in peril GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Dems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests MORE (R-Mich.) also told The Hill that Ryan insisted during the private meeting that the dismissal was not done for any politician reasons, but because it was just “time for a change.”

Conroy had replaced Fr. Daniel P. Coughlin in May of 2011. Coughlin, the first Catholic priest to hold the chaplain post, had been in the spot for more than 11 years.

The Hill reported Thursday that Ryan forced out Conroy, who had been in the role for seven years.

The news that Conroy had been pushed out was a surprise to many members who had thought that his retirement announced last week was voluntary. 

Democratic lawmakers have said that they believe the reason that Conroy was pushed out was a prayer he gave that was perceived as critical of the GOP tax law.

Conroy later echoed a similar sentiment in an interview with The New York Times.

Some Catholic Republicans spoke up during the open-microphone portion of the meeting and pressed Ryan on his explanation. One of them was Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who said he regularly spoke with Conroy and had never heard any of his colleagues complain about him.

"I saw people walk up to him all the time, sit down with him. So I never heard any of these complaints before," King told reporters after the meeting. Ryan "just said he received so many complaints from members of the House about the lack of chaplain services. I never heard one of them. I’m not the Speaker, but I never heard [them]."

Some Democrats, up in arms over Conroy's removal, have voiced suspicions that Ryan had faced pressure from southern Republicans wary of Conroy's Catholicism, especially since the chaplain is a Catholic of the more liberal Jesuit order.

Rep. Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanGroup begins 'Nuns on the Bus' tour to protest Trump tax law ahead of midterms Election Countdown: Dems raising millions in fight for House | Trump attacks potential challengers | GOP finalizes 2020 convention plans | Dems see Kavanaugh fight driving women voters to the polls | Bloomberg spending big for Senate Dems GOP sacrifices women and House Republicans with Kavanaugh plan MORE (R-Colo.) told reporters that Ryan said he received a number of “complaints” from members that their needs weren’t being met.

Suspicions among Catholic Democrats that Conroy's Catholicism played a role were bolstered Thursday night, when Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerDisasters become big chunk of U.S. deficit GOP lawmaker reports 'threatening' Twitter messages to police US and Canada working furiously to come to NAFTA agreement MORE (R-N.C.), a Southern Baptist Minister who heads the Republican Study Committee, promoted the notion that Conroy's replacement should have a family — a stipulation that would eliminate Catholic priests and nuns.

“I’m looking for somebody who has a little age, that has adult children, that kind of can connect with the bulk of the body here, Republicans and Democrats who are going through, back home the wife, the family," said Walker, who is heading the search committee charged with finding Conroy's replacement.

One GOP lawmaker said that there had been frustrations among some Republicans with Conroy. The lawmaker told The Hill that Conroy did not reach out to members of the GOP baseball team after last year’s shooting.

But Rep. Joe BartonJoe Linus BartonConservatives blame McCarthy for Twitter getting before favorable committee Worst-case scenario for House GOP is 70-seat wipeout Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 MORE (R-Texas), manager of the GOP baseball team, said that he and his sons had nothing but positive interactions with Conroy after the shooting, and pointed out that the chaplain led the prayer at first base before the congressional baseball game.

- Updated at 11:08 a.m.