House Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly asked the House chaplain, Father Pat Conroy, to resign earlier this month. The Jesuit priest complied, but says he does not know why he was asked to leave his post.
Conroy said that he was blindsided by the request, saying, "I was asked to resign, that is clear. I certainly wasn't given anything in writing. Catholic members on both sides are furious."
Ryan's chief of staff delivered the news, according to Conroy. The priest's last day of service to the House will be May 24.
In his resignation letter to Ryan, Conroy wrote, "As you have requested, I hereby offer my resignation as the 60th chaplain of the United States House of Representatives. I wish all the best of the House of Representatives, and for your upcoming search for a worthy successor in the office of the chaplain."
The priest was nominated by former House Speaker John Boehner, and has served in his position since 2011.
But Conroy did speculate on what might have prompted the call for his resignation. During the tax cut debates in November, he gave a prayer on the House floor, saying: "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."
Later, the speaker's office let him know that his prayer has ruffled some feathers. When Conroy ran into the speaker in person, Ryan told him, "Padre, you just got to stay out of politics."
Conroy said, "That's what I've been trying to do for seven years."
Ryan's office said no specific prayer led to the request for the chaplain's resignation. But some House members are demanding answers, including Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina, who said, "I'm very upset. If this is true about the prayer, and we have freedom of religion in America, how about freedom of religion on the floor of the House?"