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We’ll probably never know exactly why Speaker of the House Paul Ryan forced out Father Patrick Conroy as the House chaplain -- only to reverse himself a few weeks later, on May 3, 2018, and let Conroy stay on.
The Wisconsin Republican had said that a number of House members "felt like the pastoral services were not being adequately served, or offered."
But Conroy, a Catholic priest, said he was led to believe Ryan moved to oust him partly because of a prayer he delivered on Nov. 6, 2017, as Republicans were preparing to vote on their tax reform bill. Addressing the bill in his prayer, Conroy made references to people who struggle and to "winners and losers."
Which led us to wonder:
Had Conroy, a Jesuit, gotten political with his opening prayers on other occasions, or did that prayer stand out?
Using the House chaplain’s Opening Prayer archive, we read the prayer in question, along with the 14 prayers Conroy gave before it, which date back to September 2017; and the 14 prayers he gave after it, which run through December 2017.
What we found is that most of the prayers could readily be described as neutral -- asking for patience and wisdom for the House members as they went about their business.
For example, on Dec. 1, 2017:
Living God, we give You thanks for giving us another day.
As we face a new day, help us to discover the power of resting in You. Send Your spirit down upon the Members of the people's House. Grant them wisdom, insight, and vision that the work they do will be for the betterment of our Nation, and help them to identify and bring to pass policies that will redound to the benefit of our children and grandchildren.
May all that is done this day be for Your greater honor and glory. Amen.
But on a number of occasions, portions of Conroy’s prayers leaned a little more political:
Oct. 2, 2017: "Lord, once again, our Nation reels in grief and horror after yet another mass shooting on our soil ….The debates will, once again, ensue. Speed us to the day when the wisdom of Solomon might inspire our congressional members beyond the limitations of sound bites and platitudes before more and more American citizens are deprived of their lives."
Dec. 4, 2017: "Bless the members of the people's House, and all of Congress, with the insight and foresight to construct a future of security in our nation's politics, economy, and society. May they, as You, be especially mindful of those who are poor and without power."
Dec. 20, 2017: "By the first hints of Your dawn, banish all fear and hesitation. May those who live on the margins of America's rich blessings have peace and prosperity too."
Dec. 21, 2017: "May that spirit pervade these halls and chambers, and may the work done and being done redound to the benefit of all, most particularly those whom You favor: the least among us."
Finally, here is the Nov. 6, 2017, prayer in its entirety; the third paragraph is what drew attention:
God of the universe, we give You thanks for giving us another day.
Bless the members of this assembly as they set upon the work of these hours, of these days. Help them to make wise decisions in a good manner and to carry their responsibilities steadily, with high hopes for a better future for our great nation.
As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, 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. 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.
May Your blessing, O God, be with them and with us all this day and every day to come, and may all we do be done for Your greater honor and glory. Amen.
U.S. House chaplain’s Opening Prayer archive