Jesuit priest sworn in as new House chaplain

Jesuit priest Rev. Patrick J. Conroy on Wednesday was sworn in as the new House chaplain, two weeks after his work for a religious order that settled sexual abuse claims was called into question.

Conroy was sworn in by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who along with fellow Catholic and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nominated Conroy.

“Father Pat Conroy comes with a healthy respect for what we do,” said Pelosi during the swearing in. “It is a beautiful honor steeped in history — deeply personal, free of politics — and we wish him every success in that job.”

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The comments represent a change of tone for Pelosi, who earlier this month co-nominated Conroy only to later claim Boehner failed to thoroughly examine the background of the priest.

Referring to it as “new information,” Pelosi questioned the Jesuit priest’s work for a Roman Catholic religious order that recently agreed to pay $166 million to hundreds of victims of sexual abuse.

Boehner's office subsequently dismissed Pelosi's concerns, and her office later said there was no evidence of any connection between Conroy and the allegations of abuse. After further inquiry, she said she saw “no obstacle” in preventing the chaplain’s nomination from moving forward.

It is not the first time the choice of House chaplain has been marked by controversy.

In 2000, then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and then-Democratic leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) established a bipartisan search committee to find a new chaplain. Hastert later angered lawmakers — and was accused of having an anti-Catholic bias — when he chose the Rev. Charles Parker Wright, a Presbyterian, over a Roman Catholic priest who had reportedly received the most bipartisan support from the committee.
 Wright subsequently withdrew his nomination and Hastert nominated Father Daniel P. Coughlin.

In a statement read before the House prior to Conroy’s swearing in, departing Coughlin expressed his appreciation for the position.

“During the past 11 years, it has been my distinct honor to serve as chaplain of the House of Representatives,” he wrote. “It has been a true blessing for me to come to know you, members of Congress, through the years . . . It is now time for me to retire.”

New House chaplain Conroy entered the Society of Jesus in 1973 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1983. He previously served as a chaplain at D.C.'s Georgetown University for 10 years, ending in 2003.

In addition to opening House proceedings with prayer, Conroy will provide pastoral counseling, coordinate the scheduling of guest chaplains and arrange memorial services for staff.