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House chaplain rescinds resignation

House Chaplain Patrick Conroy has retracted his resignation from the post, arguing he did nothing to deserve being pushed out last month by Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanElection Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight Paul Ryan to campaign for 25 vulnerable House Republicans GOP super PAC pushes back on report it skipped ad buys for California's Rohrabacher, Walters MORE (R-Wis.) and wishes to remain at least through the end of the year, when his term expires. 
 
“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 his letter to Ryan on Thursday. Ryan later said he had "accepted" the letter and would allow Conroy to stay on.
 
“It is my desire to continue to serve as House Chaplain … to the end of my current two-year term, and beyond, unless my services are officially terminated (however that is properly done) or I am not re-elected to the position by the membership of the House,” Conroy wrote.
 
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In the letter, Conroy, a Jesuit priest appointed in 2011, said Ryan’s chief of staff, Jonathan Burks, approached the chaplain last month requesting his resignation on behalf of Ryan, himself a Catholic. 
 
Conroy said Burks gave no specific cause, but suggested it was time for a non-Catholic to fill the chaplain post.
 
“I inquired as to whether or not it was ‘for cause,’ and Mr. Burks mentioned dismissively something like ‘maybe it’s time that we had a Chaplain that wasn’t Catholic,’ ” Conroy wrote.
 
The Washington Post first reported on Conroy's letter.
 
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Ryan said he had "accepted Father Conroy’s letter and decided that he will remain in his position," pledging to sit down with him next week.
 
"My original decision was made in what I believed to be the best interest of this institution," Ryan said. "To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves. 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."
 
Conroy’s resignation ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill last week after it was revealed that Ryan’s office had forced him out without providing a reason, even to Conroy himself. Ryan, in a closed-door meeting with Republicans, explained that he’d heard complaints from members that Conroy had neglected their “pastoral needs.”
 
Catholics in both parties condemned the move, and Democrats took to the House floor in a dramatic attempt to force the creation of a select committee to examine the reasons for Conroy’s ouster. The measure failed, largely along party lines. 
 
The controversy deepened 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 Baptist minister who heads the Republican Study Committee, had suggested the House chaplain should have a wife and kids in order to relate better to the needs of lawmakers — a stipulation that would exclude Catholics like Conroy, who take an oath of celibacy.  
 
Ryan had initially appointed Walker as part of the panel charged with recommending Conroy’s replacement. Amid the furor over his remarks, Walker resigned from that spot over the weekend.
 
Ryan has defended the decision to ask for the priest's resignation, saying it was "based on feedback" he received from members.

Conroy, however, said that Ryan had warned him to “stay out of politics” after he delivered a prayer on the House floor about the GOP tax bill.

In his Thursday letter, Conroy cited remarks Ryan gave that his "spiritual counseling" had been found lacking. 

"In fact, no such criticism has ever been leveled against me during my tenure," Conroy wrote.

“Had I known of any failure in providing my ministry to the House, I would have attempted to make appropriate adjustments, but in no case would I have agreed to submit a letter of resignation without being given that opportunity.”

Conroy’s supporters in both parties were quick to hail the chaplain’s fight to remain in place. 

“I applaud Father Pat in his decision and stand by my support of him,” Rep. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedDemocrats see hypocrisy in GOP attacks on ‘liberal mob’ GOP on timing of Haley’s announcement: 'Unusual' and 'odd' Moderate Blue Dogs endorse House rules overhaul to break gridlock MORE (R-N.Y.), one of two Republicans to support the Democrats’ push for an investigation, said Thursday in an email.

Conroy’s reference to the “proper” process for removing a House chaplain has been the subject of some debate over the past week. While House rules clearly stipulate that the Speaker has the power to remove certain officials from their posts — including the clerk, sergeant-at-arms and chief administrative officer — the chaplain is not clearly listed. And Democrats, and some Republicans, insist Ryan lacks that authority. 

“The chaplain is handled differently than certain other officers of the House,” Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturTiming of Trump's Mexico trade deal gives Democrats an advantage Overnight Energy: Two top Pruitt aides quit | Trump offers support for Pruitt | EPA spokesman calls reporter 'a piece of trash' | Pruitt praises Chick-Fil-A as 'franchise of faith' Dems put squeeze on Ryan over chaplain controversy MORE (D-Ohio) said last week. “There has been no charge of wrongdoing. And if there was, then we need to know what it is.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a Methodist minister who was tapped to join the search for Conroy’s replacement, has also been adamant that Conroy, elected by the full House, cannot be removed without cause at the whims of the Speaker. The concern among Democrats is that Ryan’s move will politicize the chaplain position, setting a precedent for ritual firings whenever the House changes hands.

Rep. Bill PascrellWilliam (Bill) James PascrellDems eye ambitious agenda if House flips Repealing SALT deduction cap would largely benefit wealthy: analysis Ryan, lawmakers call on Catholic Church leaders to come clean MORE (N.J.), another Catholic Democrat, was more critical, accusing Ryan of pandering to the conservative evangelicals in the GOP conference.

“The feeble excuses offered by Speaker Ryan are merely a pretext to cover for the whims of extremists in his caucus,”  Pascrell said Thursday in a statement. 

After reports emerged that Ryan had forced Conroy out, Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiOn The Money: Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion | Yellen says Trump attacks threaten Fed | Affordable housing set for spotlight in 2020 race Deficit hits six-year high of 9 billion: Treasury GOP has not done a good job of selling economic achievements, says ex-Trump adviser MORE (D-Calif.), also a Catholic, said through a spokesman that she “made it clear to Speaker Ryan that she disagreed with this decision.”

Conroy has served as the official House chaplain since being appointed by former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Citi — House postpones Rosenstein meeting | Trump hits Dems over Medicare for all | Hurricane Michael nears landfall Kavanaugh becomes new flashpoint in midterms defined by anger Juan Williams: The GOP can't govern MORE (R-Ohio), another Catholic, in 2011. His resignation had been set to take effect on May 24.

Conroy told The New York Times last month that Ryan's staff was upset over his November prayer about the tax law, in which he urged fairness as lawmakers decided where the benefits should fall. Conroy mentioned the prayer again in his Thursday letter, saying Burks mentioned that invocation as well as an interview the chaplain had given to National Journal Daily.

“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,” the chaplain stated on the floor at the time. “May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

 
Melanie Zanona contributed. Updated at 5:59 p.m.