Statement of Congressman Pete King Regarding Forced Resignation of House Chaplain
The recent controversy over the forced resignation of House Chaplain, Fr. Patrick Conroy, by Speaker Paul Ryan raises a number of questions which I have discussed in Congress and in the media.
The main reasons for the controversy are the suddenness of the Speaker's action and the fact that this is the first forced resignation of a Chaplain in the history of Congress. That is why I spoke before the entire Republican Conference to ask what was actually behind this unprecedented action. The explanation offered by the Speaker, coupled with a statement from a member of the search committee for a new Chaplain, only added to the controversy.
First though let me say that I have the highest regard for the Speaker who has always been entirely honest in his dealings with me - even when we disagree - and has always kept his word when he makes a commitment to me such as the 99 year extension of the 9/11 Zadroga Healthcare Bill, right after he became Speaker, and the recent Gateway Project.
Similarly Speaker Ryan is without bias toward any religion and any allegation of bias in this case would be particularly baseless since Paul and Fr. Conroy are both Catholic.
That being said more explanation must be given. The Speaker says that the sole reason for Fr. Conroy's dismissal was that so many Members of Congress complained to him that Fr. Conroy was not providing adequate pastoral care or counseling. Fr. Conroy has been the Chaplain for more than 7 years and I have never heard even one word of complaint. Instead, after my remarks at Friday's House GOP Conference, several Congressmen spoke to me and said that Fr. Conroy had been very helpful to them in times of crisis.
Congressman Mark Walker of North Carolina, who is a member of the search committee and a Baptist Minister, had said that he hoped the next Chaplain would be nondenominational and could relate to Members with spouses and children.
This would, of course, eliminate any Catholic Priest or Nun. I said that those words coming from an Evangelical "have all sorts of historical connotations" toward Catholics. Congressman Walker responded to me saying his words had been taken out of context and that having a family was only one factor to be considered.
Who were these thus far anonymous Members who besieged the Speaker with complaints? Why after 7 years are we first hearing there were all these complaints? When did these complaints begin? If complaints were going on for years, why was Fr. Conroy reappointed at least 3 times for terms encompassing 6 years? Were the complaints widespread from Members across the nation or were they predominantly from one region? Did they come predominantly from one religious persuasion or from one political faction? Were the complaints so serious or numerous that Fr. Conroy couldn't at least be given the courtesy of finishing out the final 7 months of the year after more than 7 years of service? Why the rush to judgment?
Until these questions are answered, the speculation will persist that there were political/religious pressures brought to bear. And Democrats will continue to shamelessly foment religious tensions.
I am a Catholic who graduated from a Jesuit High School. I would, however, be raising these same questions no matter what the Chaplain's religion might happen to be. Theological, doctrinal and sectarian differences should have no relevance. I hope and pray that these questions will be answered and our concerns allayed.
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