This post has been updated with the latest news.
A Washington mystery just got more mysterious: Why did House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) fire the House chaplain?
Or, more accurately: Why did the chaplain bow to pressure from Ryan to resign, then rescind his resignation? The Post's Paul Kane reports that the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy told Ryan Thursday he wanted to rescind his resignation and remain in his job at through the end of the year.
"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 to Ryan.
And Ryan announced later Thursday he’ll re-accept the chaplain back into the job, saying in a statement that even though he thought Conroy should leave, he didn’t want to go through a protracted fight.
Here are five reasons this drama is particularly mysterious.
Ryan didn't give a reason for something he must have known would be controversial
The chaplain is generally a noncontroversial job. Their job is to offer the daily prayer before the start of each House session and provides spiritual counsel to all lawmakers. Conroy is only the second Catholic priest to serve as House chaplain, and no chaplain has ever been fired in the history of the House of Representatives.
Until recently, many members of Congress thought that streak remained. When Ryan sent a note to lawmakers in April announcing Conroy would be leaving, the note left the impression among many that he was leaving voluntarily.
But as Congress belatedly realized Ryan was the one who forced Conroy out (thanks to Kane's reporting), and without giving a reason, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle demanded answers.
Ryan said it "was not about politics or prayers, it was about pastoral services." But he still hasn't cleared up exactly why he thought Conroy should go.
In the absence of facts, many on Capitol Hill are offering unsubstantiated opinions. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) told Politico he thought Ryan, a Catholic, was “pandering to anti-Catholic sentiment” among House Republicans.
It's not just Democrats who are upset. “I see no evidence that he should have been removed," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.).
Ryan's been in the House for 19 years, in the speaker job almost three. He must know that in the absence of an explanation, lawmakers will speculate, and this story will get more and more attention.
One potential reason for Ryan's silence: He doesn't want to kick the chaplain while he's down by explaining all the reasons he thought it was time for a change.
The chaplain thinks he was fired over a prayer he gave
Conroy himself says he doesn't know why he was fired, and in the absence of information, he's trying to connect the dots. Here's what Conroy told the New York Times in one of the only interviews he has given:
He prayed one day on the House floor about the tax bill: “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.”
After that, Conroy told the Times: “A staffer came down and said, We are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political.”
Conroy claims to the Times that Ryan also told him in passing: “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”
That would be controversial, to say the least. Again, worth mentioning that Ryan said there was no specific prayer that led to Conroy's firing.
There’s confusion between Ryan and Pelosi’s office about whether Pelosi was okay with this
If you're going to fire a beloved House chaplain, it helps to have bipartisan support. Even better if that person is a Catholic, too. Ryan thought he did have House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) sign-off. “She and her office were fully read in and did not object,” AshLee Strong, Ryan's spokesman, told Kane.
Pelosi's office denies they agreed Conroy should go. As the controversy boiled, Pelosi issued a statement condemning the firing of Conroy, who has served as House chaplain for seven years: "His abrupt, unjust dismissal is hard to understand and impossible to support," she said. She lent her support to a Democratic effort to establish a special congressional committee to investigate Conroy's firing.
Ryan and Pelosi may fight in public a lot, but behind the scenes they have a fairly good working relationship. That they can't agree on the basic facts of a conversation about the chaplain just adds to the mystery surrounding this.
Why did Ryan do this when he’s on his way out? Why not let the next speaker choose the chaplain?
Ryan is retiring at the end of the year and leaving Congress. That he felt he needed to make a change in the final months of his time here makes the firing seem urgent. It creates the perception that Ryan thought the chaplain needed to go now. Again: Why?
The chaplain is refusing to go
And the newest development to this saga, as Kane reported: The chaplain, likely buoyed by the public support he's received from members of Congress and the attention his firing is getting in the media, is basically refusing to resign.
It sets up a remarkable showdown between two people who generally don't fight, especially not like this, and especially not so publicly. With Conroy defiant in insisting he did nothing wrong, and willing to stand up to the most powerful member of the House to prove it, it raises the overarching question: Why did Ryan fire him in the first place?