Fight over new Catholic chaplain of the U.S. Senate

Ten years ago there was a conflict over the appointment of a Catholic priest as chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives. Recently, a Catholic priest, a Jesuit was appointed as chaplain for the U.S. Senate.

Former speaker pro-abortion Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) opposes the appointment.

A reader sent me to the following from Roll Call:

Pelosi, Boehner Clash Over Chaplain

Courtesy Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus

The Rev. Patrick Conroy worked for a Jesuit group ordered to pay $166 million over child sexual abuse claims, though he was not personally accused of misconduct.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is reconsidering her support for a Catholic priest nominated as House chaplain after learning that he works for a Jesuit group ordered to pay $166 million for more than 400 claims of child sexual abuse.

A spokesman for the California Democrat told Roll Call on Tuesday night that Speaker John Boehner’s office did not tell Pelosi about the March settlement — the largest ever by a single religious order to victims of sexual abuse — by the Rev. Patrick Conroy’s current employer, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus.

“We are most sympathetic to the concerns of the families [of victims] and take their views very seriously,” spokesman Drew Hammill said in an email. “Mr. Boehner has now provided us with additional, new information. As with the information he provided earlier along with his recommendation, we will now review these new materials.”

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, however, said Pelosi’s office could have figured out the news on its own.

“The settlement is public knowledge, reported in The New York Times, among other media outlets,” he said in an email. “It was not a part of the discussion because it has absolutely nothing to do with Fr. Conroy. It is only being discussed now because Roll Call is asking about it.”

That’s a much different tone from last week, when Boehner’s office announced Conroy’s nomination, noting that it had the full support of both party leaders. The full House is expected to vote on the nomination later this month.

Plaintiff’s attorneys involved in the massive lawsuit said Conroy has not been accused of abusing any children or even covering up for other priests. In fact, Conroy blew the whistle on at least one case of abuse at a prior job.

Still, at least one victim and others involved in the case questioned whether the nomination to House chaplain was an appropriate honor for a member of the order.

Boehner’s office said he is sticking by his choice and noted Conroy was vetted by the Capitol Police, the House counsel and the Chief Administrative Officer.

“Both Speaker Boehner and Democratic Leader Pelosi reviewed Fr. Conroy’s background before the Speaker selected him,” Steel said. “Fr. Conroy was honest and candid, and the Speaker is confident he will be a great chaplain for the entire House of Representatives community.”

Conroy, who was ordained in 1983, would be only the second Catholic priest and the first Jesuit to hold the post of House chaplain. There were reportedly five candidates for the position, though it is unknown from what denominations or who exactly was up for the job.

Boehner and Pelosi are Catholic. In addition, Boehner is a graduate of Xavier University, a Jesuit school in Cincinnati and Pelosi, through her husband and son, has ties to Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution where Conroy worked as recently as 2003.

In announcing the nomination, Boehner’s office sent out a press release noting much of Conroy’s past work and educational experience, including his most recent work at Jesuit High School in Portland. The release did not mention his concurrent role as formation assistant for the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus from 2006 to 2010, helping priests-to-be work toward ordination.

That group’s March settlement covers decades of abuse by several priests, mostly on Native American reservations in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

More than 100 victims are from the Colville Indian Reservation in Northeastern Washington, where Conroy worked from 1984 to 1989 as a pastor. The bulk of the abuse happened before the 1980s, and three law firms representing separate groups of plaintiffs in the case independently confirmed that Conroy is not listed as a party accused of sexual abuse of children.

But Elsie Boudreau, a victim of sexual assault by an Oregon Province Jesuit in Alaska starting in 1978, said the fact that the Speaker chose someone from the group is insensitive to her and the other Native American children who were abused.

“It’s not only insensitive, it’s appalling,” she said. “The abuse was so pervasive and the damage that has been done is irreparable. For Boehner to choose someone from the Oregon Province I think says a lot to the fact that, ‘Oh well, they continued to operate this way but it’s OK.’”

Patrick Wall, a former priest who now consults lawyers on clergy sexual abuse, said choosing a member of the group honors the Oregon Province.

He said Boehner and Pelosi should not be aligning themselves with a group that “has filed not only financial bankruptcy, but basically filed moral bankruptcy.”

“I don’t think he should be given a position as a chaplain to any government entity because his province alone had over 400 alleged survivors of their priests,” Wall said.

Margaret Smith, part of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice research team that carried out the most comprehensive study to date on the prevalence of sexual abuse among Catholic priests, said the incidence of abuse is overblown.

“Those who have been terrifically and personally affected by these things think their personal influence should affect what happens on a national basis,” she said. “The bottom line is, there is a lot of this behavior in this society. Everyone is a few degrees of separation from someone who has acted inappropriately from an adolescent, unfortunately.”

Conroy did not respond to two emailed requests for comment.

The Very Rev. Patrick Lee, superior of the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, said in a statement that he is “deeply disappointed” by the reaction to Conroy’s nomination.

“Fr. Conroy is an excellent priest worthy of the nomination made by Speaker Boehner,” Lee said. “He has never been the subject of an allegation of child abuse.”

The Rev. Patrick Howell, a member of the Oregon Province and rector of the Jesuit community at Seattle University, where Conroy worked for four years in the 1990s, said that most incidents of abuse happened decades ago and that the perpetrators are “under supervision and very restricted.”

“Safeguards were put in to protect children. We all go through a training each year, both for the archdiocese and Jesuit order,” he said. “If anything, we’re probably better qualified to reach out to people in need and to understand the different trials and crises that people go through.”

Those safeguards were not yet in place in 1986, when Conroy, three years out of college, informed a superior about a Roman Catholic priest whom he suspected of abusing a boy.

The Seattle Times reported in 2002 that Conroy wrote a letter in 1986 to then-Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen stating that a boy told him that he had been abused by a priest when he was 12 or 13 at a parish in Snohomish, Wash.

“It seems this young man, who is about 20 years old now, was one of many young boys, years ago, who spent a lot of time with Fr. Dennis Champagne in the rectory and on outings,” Conroy wrote in 1986, according to the Times. “It came to pass on one such occasion that Fr. Champagne made a homosexual pass at the young boy in question, momentarily molesting him. The youth fled immediately. Fr. Champagne never again made such a pass, and the young man never told anyone, with the exception of a friend, who asked me to talk to the victim, about this incident.”

Conroy told the Times in 2002 that the archdiocese never responded to him and that he did not follow up on the complaint. The archdiocese told the newspaper at the time that the boy did not want to go public with his complaint.

Champagne remained in active ministry until 2002, when he resigned after the victim came forward publicly.

Roll Call reported in 2008 that former House Chaplain Daniel Coughlin managed priests who had been accused of sexual abuse for the Chicago Archdiocese before coming to the House in 2000.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. David Homoney says:

    Both of them disgust me.

  2. Rob Cartusciello says:

    After hearing an Oregon Province Jesuit was named House Chaplain, I was waiting for this shoe to drop. However, guilt by association is a vile practice.

  3. So… this means that if Pelosi has ever belonged to any group (such as the Catholic Church, or Congress, or the companies she’s been associated with, or the neighbors on her street) of whom any member has ever been indicted of any horrid crime, or of whom any member has ever settled a lawsuit associated with Bad Stuff, she is saying that she is of such great moral turpitude that she is forced to resign her seat?


  4. incorpore says:

    Obviously the story here is not about the person of Fr. Conroy, however, I must say I wouldn’t be terribly upset if he wasn’t approved by the House (if even for ridiculous reasons). From personal experience, Fr. Conroy is no paradigm of orthodoxy. What surprises (that may be too strong a word) me is that I would also consider him a political liberal – yet Nancy is now withdrawing support. The one good thing I would say is that he is not a part of the “pink mafia” – which may also have something to do with Nancy’s withdrawl of support.

  5. transparent2one says:

    Yet she has the blood of millions on her own hands.

  6. Martial Artist says:

    Oh dear, oh dear! Nancy Pelosi considers herself a Catholic????? What an embarrassment she is, not only to the Church and her members, but to the eedjits who keep reelecting her to the Senate. Darn, I have now, feeling compelled to respond to this public stupidity, had to think about and address the inane comments of an elected Federal politician. Almost every time I have to deal with one of those, either in person, or in writing, I feel the need for a bath and a change of clothing. Odd that. They tend to make it very difficult for me to pray for them without asking God to forcibly fix their thinking apparati.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  7. Alan Aversa says:

    Is Fr. Patrick Conroy vocally pro-life?

  8. Martial Artist says:


    Yes, you are quite correct in writing

    …she is saying that she is of such great moral turpitude that she is forced to resign her seat…

    More or less “tarred by her own brush, feathered by her own down, ridden out of town on her own rail” so to speak (not to mention avoiding the, by now somewhat overused, “hoist by her own petard”). But then again, you don’t realistically expect logical consistency from her, do you? I don’t even expect it from the vast majority of her fellow elected politicians, so it is always a greatly pleasant occasion when one of them exhibits it. And I don’t recall ever having had that experience from any of her publicly reported utterances.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer
    *—Please do forgive me the wishful thinking involved in the phrases I have struck through.

  9. Jack Hughes says:

    I am tempted to post an offensive comment about pelosi with regards to her pro-death record, if what people are saying here is true then I am dissapointed, the Speaker should lobby the Fathers of Mercy to borrow one of their Priests to be chaplin, that would ruffle some feathers :)

  10. M. K. says:

    Ten years ago there was a conflict over the appointment of a Catholic priest as chaplain for the U.S. House of Representatives. Recently, a Catholic priest, a Jesuit was appointed as chaplain for the U.S. Senate.

    Shouldn’t the lede and the title of the post be corrected to reflect the fact that Fr. Conroy has been nominated to serve as chaplain of the U.S. House, not the Senate?

  11. James Joseph says:

    Like the other fellow, I am disgusted by the whole thing; on both sides.

    But, it does give me an opportunity to recall the two young men who used to hang around our house hoping to date my sisters. Both of them claimed that they were sexually molested by a local parish priest while they were altar-boys. Both of them were awarded payouts. And, yet here in Yankee New England, where one of my earliest memories is, “Catholic-shit why don’t you go back to where you come from!” And so, in the end-sum, neither of them had ever set foot in a Catholic Church in their lives nevermind having ever been altar boys. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. The law-office around the corner, run by an Italian-American Mason, by the early 2000’s had made something like $400,000,000 in “abuse” cases while EVERY SINLGE LAST PRIEST that I have known has been removed from parish life. Including the homosexual priest who used to do that funny thing with his foot during his homilies and was all ducky in his expressions. (Ironically, he was accused of molesting a teen-age girl) But, don’t worry about them. Driving the air-port limo, and pumping gas alla Bishop Bonaventure is a great life for a priest.

    Just wait it out gentlemen. When you turn 75, the chancery will turn around and say, “Oops. Our bad. Now go retire!”

    This whole thing is easy to understand. My cousin who worked in the chancery until they laid-off everybody and sold it to Boston College, (the only Catholic in the financial department) at the Cardinal’s palace told me at the time that the policy was to award an immediate $11,000 to any new claim no questions asked. The whole thing is one big snafu. And, it will pass. And, everything will be fine again. All the while it saddens me. The Apostolic Signatura has specifically told the Archdiocese to re-instate a particular polyglot priest (The absolute holiest man I have ever known.. even his pants and his shoes are holey) living in a state of poverty who had been accused by an 34-year communist, angry at having his baby baptised, of putting his arm around him in a photo. From what I understand, he is quite perturbed about the enormous failures of diocesean tribunals. It has been a year or so now. And…. it’s only crickets.

    I have more space. It’s worth noting I have gentleman here who runs a shipping business. One of his guys went around bragging that had a plan get a bunch of money. He was paid about $40,000. Weeks late he died of a drug overdose. You can only put so much blow up your nose, you know.

    Or the Greek bishop who was accused of driving his car down to the homosexual beach to bang it out with the degenerates. Too bad he doesn’t have a drivers license.

    (I will stop before I boil over)

  12. BaedaBenedictus says:

    When I saw the headline I immediately thought of Father Edward Beck, the ABC priest who has been making the rounds on all the political shows lately arguing that Osama bin Laden wasn’t evil because he was “sincere” about his beliefs and because “we are all created in goodness and love.”

    Phew about that one. Though if I had a choice, I would pick Fr. Frank Pavone for chaplain!

    I find it telling that these people interpret the choice of chaplain as “rewarding” the organization he came from. Is not a chaplain chosen for the spiritual care of the House and its members? Not anymore these days in a post-Christian Washington. It’s like holidays like Easter—stripped of their Christian meaning.

  13. digdigby says:

    Check out his Jesuit High School site. If you roam around you’ll see a Denny’s Restaurant water glass used as a chalice, tie-dye chasuble, guitar strummin’ priests and the home site lists all the main categories for those interested in the school such as sports, academics, student life and NO heading for ‘religion or Catholic’ – formation doesn’t seem to be a main concern of this ‘Jesuit’ and ‘Catholic’ school.

  14. Papabile says:

    Being a staffer on the Hill, I find it interesting.

    10 years ago, Republicans were accused of being “anti-catholic” because one of their members asked the Democrat’s nominee for Chaplain, a priest, if House members would feel uncomfortable by his Roman collar.

    (Note: Pelosi was involved with that effort back then.)

    Yes, an impolitic question…. but it was meant to draw out the information that this Priest was ignoring Rome’s instruction to wear clericals. Ultimately, Hastert had to appoint one on his own authority and went with Father Coughlin after asking Cardinal George for a Recommendation.

    Now, we have another nominee….. and it’s not anti-Catholicism this time, but anyti-child.

    I do not know this Priest, and would not be surprised if he’s politically liberal. But, with that said, the Chaplain is their for the souls of the members and to the extent he can offer his time, the staff.

    Many of the Catholic staff spent regular time in the Chaplain’s office offering the rosary on Wednesdays, and some of us had him as a confessor.

    I am aware of 3 staff who converted because of his example.

    It’s NOT an insignificant position.

    Boehner could have just as easily gone forward with a nice Episcopalian Priestess — and there would have been NO complaints.

  15. Rich says:

    What if the new chaplain does a decent job in serving non-Catholics, too? Would this not be a good witness for priests, and Catholicism in general? Is Pelosi afraid of this potentiality? If so, that’s not very Catholic, is it? It is so hard to figure out how Fr. Conroy be possibly be culpable for anything with regard to the molestation, that this is clearly a scapegoat, and could even be…STEREOTYPING.

  16. Peggy R says:

    Please tell me this priest is not the author of Prince of Tides. Ugh. [Just having fun here.]

    While I don’t think the issue should be whether members of his order were abusers, I wonder if he’s the best priest for the job, given comments about his background and orthodoxy questions.

    Nancy is in no position to criticize. She doesn’t even grant babies the right to life.

  17. Random Walk says:

    Re. The article:

    “Boehner and Pelosi are Catholic.”

    …why hasn’t *someone* excommunicated these two by now?

    I mean, seriously – someone should give ’em each an ultimatum – quit doing everything contrary to faith and doctrine, or quit being a member of it. Silence infers assent to getting the boot. Give ’em 90 days to say something.

    It’s a simple choice, really – and would send an incredibly strong message.

  18. Dave N. says:

    Noting that he is from the Oregon Province, was educated at JSTB, and that he spent a couple of significant stints as chaplain at Seattle U, I’m thinking Fr. Conroy may not exactly represent the Catholic Church’s “best foot forward” for this position. For once, Nancy Pelosi may actually represent a blessing in disguise.

  19. BobP says:

    I take it having a Latin Mass celebrated on the House floor is out of the question?

  20. Joan A. says:

    Nancy Pelosi is plain ignorant in this matter. All religious orders everywhere, including other Provinces of the Jesuits, are in some phase or other of a settlement, agreement, lawsuit, bankruptcy, discussion, or some such regarding abuse claims. You cannot find a priest who would not be from either an order or a diocese with something going on or having gone on. But the number of priests guilty are a tiny minority.

    But what makes this so absurd is the Oregon Province in particular has been financially decimated because they did not oppose a single claim. This battle is done and they paid the price already, it’s not Fr. Conroy’s battle. Once the lawyers started shaking the money tree, all sorts of “abused” people came out of the woodwork and the Jesuits did not oppose a single one. They took a very humble attitude of believing at face value any claim. Also, the lawyers were vicious, and got about 40% of that settlement, and slammed priests and the Church at every opportunity here in Oregon and Washington.

    There is so little money now due to the bankruptcy that you have 70, 80, 90 year old priests who have NEVER committed a crime or been accused of abuse, living out their final years with their nursing care being cut, their retirement home staff being reduced, etc, to pay these greedy and lying lawyers. (YES, it’s true.) Properties are being sold, a Retreat Center was closed, all because of a tiny number of priests from this Province who were molesters (not all cases were children) mostly back in the 1950’s and ’60’s in Alaskan villages. Are all Jesuits guilty because of these few?

    Finally, Nancy is really shooting herself in the foot to alienate this Province, which is quite large (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska) because the Jesuits in this particular Province are probably about 80% Democrats, if not more.

    We all know Jesuits can be odd, but the Senior Provincial of this particular Province is a man of very high integrity and he went thru HECK with these abuse cases to SINCERELY and COMPLETELY ensure justice was done. Now he is left trying to hold together his large Province with zero money. All our Jesuits here have suffered. It would be so nice if airheads like Pelosi who don’t know the facts would be quiet, so that Fr. Conroy could fulfill a role for which he is well suited. This is nothing but scandal-mongering by Pelosi.

    For what they have suffered at the hands of a lying media, lying attorneys and such over the past years, it would be nice for the Oregon Province to have the well-deserved privilege of one of their own being appointed House Chaplain. And there is no reason why he shouldn’t be.

  21. JohnRoss says:

    I’m all for the suppression of the Jesuits. Pope Benedict XIV did it, so should Pope Benedict XVI.

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