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.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.