Pelosi says Boehner's vetting of House chaplain nominee was deficient

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) failed to examine thoroughly the background of a Catholic priest before nominating him as the new House chaplain, the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) charged Wednesday.

Pelosi's office said it's in the process of reviewing "new information" about the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, a Jesuit priest working for a Roman Catholic religious order that recently agreed to pay $166 million to hundreds of victims of sexual abuse. 

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Boehner's office did not have all of the new information before it nominated Conroy to the chaplain post last week, a Pelosi spokesman said.

"Since the initial review of the materials on Fr. Conroy's candidacy, additional information has arisen that neither Mr. Boehner's office nor our office had," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said Wednesday in an email. 

"We are reviewing this new information just as expeditiously as possible as we have with all other materials provided by Speaker Boehner's office," Hammill said. 


There is no evidence of any connection between the abuse allegations and Conroy, which is something Pelosi's office is quick to acknowledge.

"There is no pre-judgment of this new information," Hammill said.

Boehner's decision to tap Conroy for the chaplain spot was made "in consultation with" Pelosi, the Speaker said last week when he announced his pick. The position opened up last month when Fr. Daniel P. Coughlin, the first Catholic priest to hold the chaplain post, retired after more than 11 years of service. 

The House is expected to vote on the Conroy nomination later this month.

That vote took a controversial turn when Pelosi learned Conroy works for the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus — commonly known as the Northwest Jesuits — which agreed in March to pay $166 million to victims of sexual abuse going back decades. Boehner's office did not mention that settlement during the vetting process, Pelosi's office said.

Roll Call first reported that story late Tuesday.

Boehner's office dismissed Pelosi's concerns, telling Roll Call that the settlement was well reported in the national press and irrelevant to Conroy's nomination.

"It was not a part of the discussion because it has absolutely nothing to do with Fr. Conroy," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told the newspaper, adding that the Speaker has no intention of revoking the nomination. 

The latest charge from the Democratic side goes a step further, alleging that there's information surrounding Conroy that even Boehner's office didn't have during the vetting process.

Boehner's office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Both Boehner and Pelosi are Catholic.

It's not the first time House leaders have gone to battle over the nomination of a chaplain. In 1999 and 2000, the relationship between Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) frayed dramatically when Hastert's nomination of a Presbyterian minister, Charles Wright, over several Catholic priests prompted Democratic howls that GOP leaders harbored an anti-Catholic bias. 

Wright eventually withdrew his nomination — leading Hastert to nominate Coughlin — but the relationship between the Speaker and Gephardt was by then so fractured that the two men didn't speak for months, according to reports at the time.