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After weeks of controversy, Paul Ryan swears the House chaplain back into office

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) speaks to reporters during a weekly news conference with House leadership, on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 8, 2018. (Tom Brenner/ The New York Times/Copyright 2018)

WASHINGTON - Nearly two weeks of furious controversy came to a quiet end when House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., swore the House chaplain, the Rev. Patrick Conroy, back into office Tuesday after seeking Conroy's resignation weeks before.

"Do you solemnly swear that you will protect and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that you will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that you take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which you are about to enter, so help you God?" Ryan asked Conroy.

"I do," said Conroy, a Catholic priest.

Conroy tendered a letter of resignation on April 15 after Ryan's chief of staff, Jonathan Burks, asked him to step down two days earlier. But it was another two weeks before it became publicly known that Conroy's signature was coerced - for reasons, in Conroy's telling, that had nothing to do with the reasons Ryan publicly gave.

Ryan cited a lack of "pastoral services" as the prime reason for the change, but numerous other lawmakers said they had never heard such complaints about Conroy's performance and instead speculated his dismissal reflected either on the perceived political content of some of Conroy's prayers or the anti-Catholic sentiment of some evangelical Christian lawmakers.

Burks, in Conroy's telling, told him "maybe it's time that we had a chaplain that wasn't a Catholic." Burks disputes that account.

On Thursday, Conroy sent a letter to Ryan saying that he had been asked to step down under false pretenses and rescinded his resignation. Ryan agreed on the same day to reinstate Conroy. Because Conroy's resignation, effective May 24, had already been accepted and read into the House record, Ryan has to swear him in anew on Tuesday.

Ryan and Conroy met Tuesday morning to clear the air, and Ryan told reporters shortly afterward that "we're going to keep talking" and "I feel good about where things are."

"We talked about how to improve the services going forward," he said. "I think we can ultimately make improvements so that everyone has access to the pastoral service they're looking for."

In his letter Thursday, Conroy said that he had never been told such "pastoral services" were lacking.

"[N]o such criticism has ever been leveled against me during my tenure as House Chaplain," he wrote. "At the very least, if it were, I could have attempted to correct such 'faults.' In retracting my resignation I wish to do just that."

Before his swearing in Tuesday, Conroy offered a prayer upon the opening of the House.

"Loving and gracious God," he began, "we give you thanks for giving us another day."

Author information: Mike DeBonis covers Congress, with a focus on the House, for The Washington Post.

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