House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday he accepts the decision by the Rev. Pat Conroy, the House chaplain, to rescind his resignation, following a week's worth of lawmakers from both parties questioning Ryan's request that Conroy step down.
"I have accepted Father Conroy's letter and decided that he will remain in his position as chaplain of the House," Ryan said in a statement. "My original decision was made in what I believed to be in the best interest of this institution. To be clear, that decision was based on my duty to ensure that the House has the kind of pastoral services that it deserves."
Ryan added, "It is my job as speaker to do what is best for the body, and I know that this body is not well-served by a protracted fight over such an important post. I intend to sit down with Father Conroy early next week so that we can move forward for the good of the whole House."
Conroy sent his intentions in a letter to Ryan earlier Thursday.
"At this time, and upon advice of counsel, I herby retract and rescind said resignation for the reasons that follow," Conroy wrote in the letter dated Thursday and addressed to Ryan.
Conroy, a Jesuit priest, resigned April 15 after he spent nearly seven years praying at the outset of House sessions. He wrote two versions of his resignation letter, which were also obtained by CNN from a congressional source. In the first version, he wrote that Ryan, who is Catholic, should consult with his chief of staff on a resignation date, but the second version stated his last day would be May 24.
The Washington Post first reported that Conroy rescinded his resignation.
In the letter, he addressed speculation that lawmakers wanted a chaplain who wasn't Catholic.
"While you never spoke with me in person, nor did you send me any correspondence, on Friday, April 13, 2018 your Chief of Staff, Jonathon Burks, came to me and informed me that you were asking for my letter of resignation," he said in the letter. "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 a Catholic.'"
He continued: "At that point, I thought that I had little choice but to resign, as my assumption was that you had the absolute prerogative and authority to end my term as House chaplain."
Burks said in a statement, "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."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Conroy's service as House chaplain has been "a blessing to members on both sides of the aisle."
"Speaker Ryan's decision to accept Father Conroy's decision to rescind his resignation and finish his term is welcome news," Pelosi said. "However, many distressing questions must still be answered about the motivations behind Father Conroy's unwarranted and unjust dismissal."
Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who is Catholic, has been among the most vocal critics of the request for Conroy to step down.
"The letter is a bombshell, inside that bombshell are explosive items like Ryan's chief of staff actually said to him maybe it's a time for a non Catholic chaplain -- for Catholics that is a profoundly offensive comment," Connolly told CNN in a phone interview. "The more this festers, the uglier it gets and the wider this infection. I think Paul Ryan should see the letter as an opportunity to heal rather than pouring salt on an open wound."
Connolly, who sent a letter with Jones to Ryan requesting more information on the resignation, said he spoke to Conroy before he wrote the letter and submitted it.
"My sense on (Conroy is) Jesuits are strong people and they're fighters and you don't mess with them," Connolly said. "We know in the Catholic church, you don't mess with Jesuits."
Lawmakers from both parties were lobbied Ryan to take steps to rescind his request.
Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina asked Ryan to reinstate Conroy on Wednesday, saying in a letter he believes the way the House chaplain was let go reflected "poorly on the House" and appears "intentionally underhanded."
"Not only was I dismayed that Father Conroy was apparently asked to resign without explanation, I was troubled by the manner in which it was done. All members were not asked for their opinions on the chaplain's performance," Jones said in the letter. "Instead, it appears a decision to push him out was made behind closed doors based on the input of only a few."
The letter continued: "It appears the decision was made to minimize the input of members, and executed surreptitiously to overcome what was likely to be their overwhelming objection. It appears intentionally underhanded, and that is deeply disappointing!"
According to a person who attended last week's GOP conference meeting, the speaker explained that he asked Conroy to resign "based on member feedback about pastoral care."
A separate GOP member who attended the meeting said Ryan "didn't say this as bluntly but the reason for the change is that many of us like Father Conroy but we feel like he didn't do anything. We never see him. We never hear from him. We'd like to have a more active priest/pastor."
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