“As you have requested, I hereby offer my resignation as the 60th chaplain of the United States House of Representatives,” Father Conroy wrote in a letter to Mr. Ryan several days later. “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.”
His final day will be May 24.
Father Conroy’s resignation is all the more contentious in Catholic circles because Mr. Ryan is a Catholic conservative, whereas Father Conroy is a Jesuit, a branch that is viewed by some as more liberal.
Asked whether differences in politics were a factor in his ouster, Father Conroy said: “I do not want to politicize this. I have thoughts about it, but I am not contributing to that.”
But, he said, Capitol Hill is an inherently political place. “There are Catholics who are Republicans and there are Catholics who are Democrats,” he said. “I don’t know if there is a religious divide; there certainly is a political one.”
Though Father Conroy said he did not know whether politics were behind his departure, he pointed to a prayer he had given on the House floor in November, when Congress was debating tax overhaul legislation.
“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,” he prayed. “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.”
About a week later, Father Conroy said, he heard from the speaker’s office. “A staffer came down and said, We are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political,” he said. “It suggests to me that there are members who have talked to him about being upset with that prayer.”
Shortly after, when he saw Mr. Ryan himself, Father Conroy said that the speaker told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”
“That is what I have tried to do for seven years,” Father Conroy said. “It doesn’t sound political to me.”
“If you are hospital chaplain, you are going to pray about health,” he added. “If you are a chaplain of Congress, you are going to pray about what Congress is doing.”
Father Conroy said that was the only time anyone from the speaker’s office had ever chastised him for veering into the political realm. “I’ve never been talked to about being too political in seven years,” he said.
A congressional aide for Mr. Ryan said that no specific prayer had led to the decision.
Father Conroy said that his only communication with Mr. Ryan or his office since he was asked to resign came on Wednesday morning, when the speaker thanked him for his seven years of service before the House welcomed President Emmanuel Macron of France.
Father Conroy said he did not ask Mr. Ryan why he was asked to resign, and he does not plan to contest his departure. “I do not want to debate this,” he said. “My understanding going into this is that I serve at the prerogative of the speaker.”
But lawmakers from both parties are demanding answers.
Representatives Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina, and Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, are circulating a letter for their colleagues to sign, asking Mr. Ryan for more information.
“I’m very upset,” Mr. Jones said. “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?”
“The members of the House vote for the chaplain,” he continued. “This is not a one-man decision. The House should have the facts of whatever the problem is.”
Mr. Connolly said he was worried about the precedent Mr. Ryan’s decision could set. The letter asks the speaker for a description of the process that was followed, and for a justification of the decision.
“We believe that, absent such details, questions will inevitably arise about the politicization of the process for hiring and dismissing a House chaplain,” the letter says. “Not revealing such details could also risk resurrecting prior questions of religious bias.”
“Pat is a fairly popular figure in the House,” Mr. Connolly said. “He’s counseled people and tended to their personal and spiritual needs. This is a personal and jarring decision that affects all of us in a big way.”
Because of the lack of clarity surrounding his resignation, Father Conroy said that he had been fielding calls from friends and House members, some inaccurately congratulating him on his retirement or worrying that he was sick.
“They asked me why I am leaving, why I am abandoning them, congratulations on your retirement, what is next,” he said. “To which I say, ‘I wasn’t looking for a job.’”
“For the most part, that information has been met by shock,” he continued. “That is the gratifying part.”
Father Conroy said that he had thoroughly enjoyed being the House chaplain, and that he had not politicized his work.
“I have found it myself to be personally liberating because I have not been allowed to engage in the politics of the day, which has been very healthy for me,” he said. “I’m grateful that that was my ministry.”
When Pope Francis visited the United States in 2015, Father Conroy gave him a personal blessing in Spanish. He has traveled with congressional delegations to Southeast Asia and to the Middle East. He has also acted as personal spiritual adviser to many members of both parties, and to their families.
“I’m going to miss that kind of stuff,” Father Conroy said. But, he added, “There will be another ministry.”