Reverend Conroy and His Order

Reverend Patrick Conroy is a highly respected 60-year-old Jesuit who has been nominated for the position of House chaplain by Speaker John Boehner.  If confirmed, he will become the 60th chaplain of the House, and the first Jesuit to hold the position.

A profile in the Catholic Sentinel notes that he is “a theology teacher, campus ministry assistant, and coach at Jesuit High School” in Portland, Oregon.  He has also “long served as a pastor to Native Peoples in the Pacific Northwest.”  He joined the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus in 2004, after spending most of the previous two decades as chaplain at Georgetown University.  This has suddenly become a problem for him.

Although House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was extensively consulted about Reverend Conroy’s selection, and he was extensively vetted by the House counsel and Capitol Police, Pelosi abruptly announced she would reconsider her support for Conroy yesterday… because the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus recently paid a huge settlement for hundreds of claims of child sexual abuse.

These abuse charges had absolutely nothing to do with Reverend Conroy, as the plaintiff’s attorneys are willing to confirm.  The incidents happened long before he joined the Oregon order.  In fact, most of them happened before he was ordained as a Jesuit.

Roll Call notes that Conroy did work as a pastor at the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State from 1984 to 1989.  In 1986, on his own initiative, he wrote a letter to the Archbishop in Seattle to report a “homosexual pass” made by another priest, after the victim told Conroy about the incident many years later.  He never received a response from the archdiocese, but the young man in question stepped forward publicly in 2002, and the priest in question resigned.

Some of the plaintiffs from the Oregon Province settlement view Reverend Conroy’s nomination for House chaplain as an undeserved honor conferred upon the order.  “It’s not only insensitive, it’s appalling,” said plaintiff Elsie Boudreau. “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.’”

It seems like a very long stretch to read that message into the nomination of Father Conroy.  It must also be said that none of this is new information.  The case against the Oregon Province was widely reported in the media, including the New York Times, whose editors would be very disappointed to learn that Nancy Pelosi does not pay attention to their paper.  It’s a real test of credibility to believe that Pelosi just learned about these abuse cases, and is reeling in shock.

The Minority Leader’s office says they are “most sympathetic to the concerns of the families” of the Oregon Province victims, and “take their views very seriously.”  They are now reviewing “additional, new information” provided by Speaker Boehner.  It would be a shame if the first Jesuit House chaplain is denied confirmation due to guilt by association with events that did not involve him, not even in the most tangential way.  It would be even more of a shame if that happened because Nancy Pelosi thinks it’s time to polish her image by picking a new fight with John Boehner.


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