House Of Representatives Appoints Catholic Priest To Be New Chaplain

The new chaplain of the House of Representatives says he plans to avoid politics and work to create a spirit of unity in Congress.

The Rev. Patrick Conroy, 60, is a Roman Catholic priest and a member of the Jesuit order. He told McClatchy newspapers that he considers his job bipartisan.

“What I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that whenever I do enter into political thought and political discussion, personally I get more and more upset,” Conroy said. “I have my political opinions and I can’t understand how anybody else would have anything different. And so often, I’d find myself arguing in my head with people that I would disagree with, and I’d get upset about it.... I don’t think that’s good for me, and I don’t know if I need that stress anymore.”

Conroy added, “I hope that Republicans might think I’m a Republican and Democrats might think I’m a Democrat. No congressman needs to have the chaplain upset with him.”

Conroy replaces the Rev. Daniel Coughlin, also a Roman Catholic priest. Coughlin resigned in April after 11 years on the job.

Conroy was nominated for the chaplaincy by House Speaker John Boehner.

In an interview with Religion News Service, Conroy said Boehner, a graduate of Xavier University, a Jesuit school in Cincinnati, asked that a Jesuit be included among those considered for the position.

The new chaplain will he paid $178,000 annually, most of which, Conroy says, will be turned over to the Jesuits. The job entails reciting an opening prayer during each day’s session (or lining up a guest to do it). The chaplain also provides counseling for House members and their staffs if they request it and can preside at events like weddings and funerals.

Americans United and other organizations have argued that the chaplain’s position is a violation of church-state separation and have pushed to have it abolished. AU asserts that today there are plenty of religious leaders in the capital who can meet the religious needs of members of Congress on a voluntary basis.

Conroy says his job does not violate church-state separation. He told McClatchy, “No member of Congress is required to pray. No member of Congress is expected to pray. I’m not proselytizing…. I’m merely here to do the job that I’ve been asked to do by the people’s House.”

Conroy was sworn in May 25. Some controversy erupted when it was revealed that Conroy’s order, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, paid $166 million to settle more than 400 claims of child sexual abuse.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) briefly considered withdrawing her support of Conroy but eventually decided to back his appointment.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) criticized the choice. SNAP said that in 1986, Conroy knew of a case of a priest who abused children and didn’t take sufficient actions to stop it. Conroy reported the matter to the archbishop but never followed up.

“He obviously should have called the police,” said SNAP board member Peter Isely in a statement. “And he should have followed up with the archbishop. And he’s had 25 years to reconsider his initial failing and make it right by contacting law enforcement. (A late report of suspected abuse is better than no report at all.) As best we can tell, he hasn’t.”