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.