WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul Ryan has ousted the chaplain of the House of Representatives, according to the religious leader's resignation letter — a move that's outraged members of both parties who have come to the defense of the Jesuit priest.
The Rev. Patrick Conroy wrote in an April 15 letter to Ryan obtained by NBC News: "As you have requested, I hereby offer my resignation as the 60th Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives."
"The position is one which I did not seek nor strive to assume, but I have seen it as a blessing and I have considered it one of the great privileges of my life," Conroy said.
Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., called the move "just outrageous."
"As someone who is a personal friend of Father Pat's, as a lot of Democrats and Republicans are, I find it outrageous that he would be fired," Crowley told NBC News. "He would be the first chaplain of the House of Representatives in the history of the United States" who was ousted.
Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., said he also disagreed with Ryan's decision.
"It is just a sad commentary on America in the House that is supposed to be the House of the People — if we want to protect freedom of speech, a prayer here, then where are we going to protect it?" Jones asked.
Conroy has been blunt in some of his remarks, including a prayer about the GOP tax bill that he offered on the House floor on Nov. 6, 2017, before the legislation was passed and signed into law by President Donald Trump.
"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," Conroy said.
"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," he added.
Democrats have argued and studies have shown that the benefits of the Trump-Republican tax measure are largely skewed toward the wealthy.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., has started circulating a letter for signatures asking Ryan to explain why he dismissed Conroy. Connolly's office said they hope to have a final letter with signatures Friday to send to Ryan.
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Conroy made the decision to resign. "The speaker consulted with the minority leader, but the decision was his," Strong said, referring to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "He remains grateful for Father Conroy's service."
Ryan announced his decision to not seek re-election and retire from Congress on April 11, a few days before Conroy's resignation letter.
When Ryan gave Pelosi the advance notice about Conroy's departure, she made it clear that she disagreed with the speaker and that she had received only positive feedback about Conroy's service, a Pelosi aide said.
Then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, nominated Conroy as chaplain in May 2011, in consultation with Pelosi, and he was sworn in that month.
Conroy declined to comment on Thursday.
When Pope Francis visited Congress in 2015, Conroy asked the Pope if he could bless him and the Pope was happy to receive the House chaplain's blessing.