Several commonly held assumptions about clergy sexual abuse of minors are actually misperceptions, according to the report released May 18 on a major study of the causes and context of the problem in the United States.
The study, released at the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, was conducted by a team of researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York.
“No single psychological, developmental or behavioral characteristic differentiated priests who abused minors from those who did not,” the report said.
Furthermore, it was found that “the majority of priests who abused were not driven by particular pathologies, and most did not ‘specialize’ in abuse of particular types of victims.” The report said 70 percent of priests referred for abusing a minor “had also had sexual behavior with adults.”
It often is thought that the sexual abuse crisis in the church continues unabated today, the report observed. But it said “the peak of the crisis has passed.” It said the church “responded,” abuse cases decreased substantially and clergy sexual abuse of minors “continues to remain low.”
Data show that abuse incidents were “highest between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s,” the report noted. “Ninety-four percent of the abuse incidents reported to the Catholic Church from 1950 through 2009 took place before 1990,” it said. Currently, “fewer new reports are brought forward” each year.
The researchers pointed to “archival data” they analyzed indicating that during the 1990s, despite reports of sexual abuse received by church leaders, “the extent of the incidence of sexual abuse was not known” by them, “and the historical dimension of it also was not known.”
Certain misperceptions regarding the abusers’ sexuality were spelled out by the report. It said:
– “Media reports about Catholic priests who sexually abused minors often mistakenly have referred to priests as pedophiles.”
The report called attention to clinical descriptions of pedophilia that speak of “fantasies, urges or behaviors about sexual activity with a prepubescent child that occurs for a significant period of time.” However, it said, nearly four out of five minors abused were 11 or older at the time of the abuse.
Eleven generally is regarded in professional literature “as an age of pubescence or postpubescence,” the report noted. It said less than 5 percent of priests with abuse allegations exhibited behavior consistent with actual pedophilia.
– “Clinical data do not support the hypothesis that priests with a homosexual identity … are significantly more likely to sexually abuse” minors than priests “with a heterosexual orientation or behavior.”
However, “because of the large number of sexual abuse victims who were male minors,” homosexuality’s role in the abuse “has been a notable question,” the report explained. It considered it “important to note that sexual behavior does not necessarily correspond to a particular sexual identity.”
A possible reason that so many male minors were abused is that priests had greater access to them, the report speculated.
The study showed that “the only significant risk factor related to sexual identity and behavior was a ‘confused’ sexual identity, and this condition was most commonly found in abusers who were ordained prior to the 1960s.”
Neither celibacy nor the church’s male priesthood undergirded the sexual abuse problem, the report said. “Features and characteristics of the Catholic Church, such as an exclusively male priesthood and the commitment to celibate chastity, were invariant during the increase, peak and decrease in abuse incidents, and thus are not causes of the ‘crisis,’” it said.
Priestly celibacy, consistently practiced in the church over many centuries, cannot explain the spike of abuse cases from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s and the steep decline after 1985, the report added.
The sexual abuse of minors “is not a phenomenon unique to the Catholic Church,” the report said. It referred to abuse of this kind as a “pervasive and persistent” problem often found in organizations where “mentoring and nurturing relationships develop between adults and young people.”
Because potential sexual abusers of minors cannot be pinpointed through “identifiable psychological characteristics,” it is “very important” to prevent abuse by limiting the “situational factors” associated with it, according to a long-awaited report on the causes and context of sexual abuse by priests in the United States.
The report, released in Washington May 18, said there is “no single identifiable ‘cause’ of sexually abusive behavior toward minors.” It encouraged steps to deny abusers “the opportunity to abuse.”
Titled “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010,” it reports the findings of a study mandated in 2002 under the U.S. Catholic bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
The charter, adopted by the bishops during a historic meeting in Dallas, created a National Review Board and directed the lay consultative body to commission studies of the abuse problem’s “nature and scope” and its “causes and context.” The John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York conducted both studies.
The nature and scope study appeared in February 2004. The causes and context study commenced in 2006.
The new report addressed several misperceptions about the sexual abuse of minors by priests. It said:
– Priestly celibacy does not explain this problem. “Constant in the Catholic Church since the 11th century,” celibacy cannot “account for the rise and subsequent decline in abuse cases from the 1960s through the 1980s.”
– Despite “widespread speculation,” priests with a homosexual identity “were not significantly more likely to abuse minors” than heterosexual priests. Sexual “identity” should be differentiated from “behavior.” A possible reason so many male minors were abused is that priests had greater access to them.
– Less than 5 percent of priests with abuse allegations exhibited behavior consistent with pedophilia. Few victims were prepubescent children.
Seventy percent of priests referred for abusing a minor “had also had sexual behavior with adults,” the study found. The majority of priest-abusers did not “specialize” in abusing “particular types of victims.”
The new study’s goal was to understand what factors “led to a sexual abuse ‘crisis’ in the Catholic Church” and “make recommendations to Catholic leadership” for reducing abuse, the John Jay College researchers explained.
They said their report also “provides a framework” for understanding “sexual victimization of children in any institution” and how organizations respond.
No other institution has undertaken a public study of sexual abuse like this one, they said.
Priests who abused minors were not carbon copies of one another. The report said they constituted a “heterogeneous population.” The majority “appear to have had certain vulnerabilities,” such as “emotional congruence to adolescents” or difficulty interrelating with adults.
Some priest-abusers were abused as youths. “Having been sexually abused by an adult while a minor increased the risk that priests would later abuse a child,” the report said.
The stress priests may experience at transitional moments — moving from seminary to parish life; transferring to new parishes; becoming pastors — was cited as a factor that can increase “vulnerability to abuse.”
The report indicated that “situational stressors” do not cause abuse, but may serve “as triggers.” High alcohol consumption during stressful times can lower inhibitions, it noted.
“The peak of the crisis has passed,” the report observed. It said the church “responded,” and abuse cases decreased substantially.
A “system of change” has begun in the church, according to the report. However, it said, “organizational changes take years, and often decades, to fully implement.”
The report called sexual abuse of minors “a long-term societal problem,” one “likely to persist, particularly in organizations that nurture and mentor adolescents.” It said diocesan leaders “must continue to deal with abuse allegations appropriately.”
Priest-abusers represented only a small percentage of all priests. The researchers judged it “neither possible nor desirable to implement extensive restrictions on the mentoring and nurturing relationships between minors and priests, given that most priests have not sexually abused minors and are not likely to do so.”
Because so many abuse cases first were reported to authorities in the early 2000s, some people suspect the abuse remains “at peak levels,” the report said. The reality is otherwise.
Sexual abuse of minors by priests “increased steadily from the mid-1960s through the late 1970s, then declined in the 1980s and continues to remain low,” the report showed. “Most abuse incidents occurred decades ago.”
And “the majority of abusers (70 percent) were ordained prior to the 1970s,” the study noted; 44 percent of those accused entered the priesthood before 1960.
Social factors influenced the increase of abuse incidents during the 1960s and 1970s, the report said. It found this increase consistent with “the rise of other types of ‘deviant’ behavior, such as drug use and crime,” and changes in social behavior such as the “increase in premarital sexual behavior and divorce.”
Those generations of priest-abusers also lacked “careful preparation for a celibate life,” the report noted. Moreover, they failed to recognize the harm done to victims.
Awareness of the harm of sexual abuse to minors grew in society and the church during the 20th century’s last decades. An increasing reluctance over time to reinstate priests in parishes after a first accusation may reflect the growth of this awareness, the report suggested.
In the 1990s, it said, “the failure of some diocesan leaders to take responsibility for the harms of the abuse by priests was egregious in some cases.”
The report accented the critical role of what today is called “human formation” in seminaries. It said a gradually intensifying focus on human-formation concerns coincided with a decline of abuse cases.
Human formation addresses matters such as the future priest’s relationships and friendships, his self-knowledge, integrity and celibate chastity. The report recommended that human formation continue after ordination.
Can seminaries screen-out priesthood candidates who will abuse minors? While encouraging further research, the report said “personality tests did not show statistically significant differences on major clinical scales” between priest-abusers and others without abuse allegations.
Nonetheless, it said screening tools remain “critically important” for identifying “other psychological problems not necessarily related” to abuse of minors.
Removing opportunities to abuse minors, making abuse more difficult and increasing its risks are among prevention steps the report recommended. Excuses priest-abusers make need to be recognized for what they are, it advised.
The report affirmed the safe environment programs implemented throughout the church in the U.S. These programs educate potential victims, abusers, parents and others, increasing the likelihood that abusers “will be identified” and “have more to lose.”
Priests need “outlets to form social friendships and suitable bonds with age-appropriate persons,” the report said. It encouraged attention to priests’ health and well-being, including factors such as stress.
It recommended that dioceses periodically evaluate priests’ performance. Evaluation is “an established element of most complex organizations,” it noted.
The church has taken many steps “to reduce opportunities for abuse,” the report said. It recommended that these efforts “be maintained and continually evaluated for efficacy.”
The persecuted Catholic Church in China needs and deserves the prayers of Catholics throughout the world, Pope Benedict XVI said.
“There, as elsewhere, Christ is living his passion” because of government restrictions and pressures on the church, the pope said May 18 at the end of his weekly general audience.
He asked Catholics everywhere to observe May 24, the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, as a day of prayer for Catholics in mainland China. Pope Benedict established the annual day of prayer in 2007 when he wrote a letter to Catholics in China outlining ways to promote greater unity between those exercising their faith clandestinely and those participating in communities overseen by the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
At his general audience, the pope emphasized the need for unity between the church in China and Rome.
“Chinese Catholics, as they have said many times, want unity with the universal church, with the supreme pastor, with the successor of Peter,” he said. China’s communist government has insisted on controlling the country’s Catholic community, defining ties with the Vatican as interference in its internal affairs.
“By our prayers we can obtain for the church in China that it remain one, holy and Catholic, faithful and steadfast in doctrine and in ecclesial discipline,” the pope said.
Pope Benedict offered special prayers for the bishops, priests and laity who face severe limits on their freedom and their exercise of the faith.
“By our prayers we can help them to find the path to keep their faith alive, to keep their hope strong, to keep their love for all people ardent” and to avoid “the temptation to follow a path independent of Peter,” the pope said.
The pope’s remarks came after his main audience talk on the power of intercessory prayer.
One of the strongest early examples in the Bible of praying on behalf of others, he said, is the story of Abraham asking God to spare the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, if he could find 10 innocent people there.
Abraham “doesn’t stop at asking God to save the innocent. He asks for the forgiveness of the entire city and he does so appealing to the justice of God,” the pope said. The patriarch’s prayer reveals “a new idea of justice, one that is not limited to punishing the guilty as human beings do,” he said.
Speaking in Polish, the pope said Abraham’s prayers for Sodom and Gomorrah should be “an example to us to trustingly implore the mercy of God for ourselves and our whole world.”
Pope Benedict said he would be discussing biblical examples of prayer for several weeks as a stimulus for people to get to know the Bible, “which I hope you have at home.”
Catholics in England and Wales will be obliged to abstain from meat every Friday under a new rule brought by the bishops.
The “act of common witness” will take effect Sept. 16, the first anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain.
The rule, announced at a news conference in London in mid-May, reverses a relaxation of the Friday penance regulations introduced in England and Wales in 1984. This allowed Catholics to choose their own form of Friday penance — such as offering additional prayers, attending Mass or abstaining from alcohol.
But critics have said that the end of a tradition in which Catholics ate fish or eggs instead of meat on Fridays led to a loss of common identity, with many Catholics today abstaining from meat only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
The return to an obligation to abstain from meat was a key resolution of the bishops’ May plenary meeting held in Leeds, England, May 9-16.
“Every Friday is set aside by the church as a special day of penance, for it is the day of the death of Our Lord,” said the bishops’ resolution.
“The law of the church requires Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays, or some other form of food, or to observe some other form of penance laid down by the bishops’ conference,” the statement said.
“The bishops wish to re-establish the practice of Friday penance in the lives of the faithful as a clear and distinctive mark of their own Catholic identity,” it said.
The resolution said those “who cannot or choose not to eat meat as part of their normal diet should abstain from some other food of which they regularly partake.”
Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the bishops wanted “to establish a shared practice, a shared habit, because habits that are carried out together are better learned and are stronger — we give each other mutual support.”
“So that’s why there’s a simple, across-the-board expectation that this will be something that Catholics will do,” he added in a Catholic News Service report.
Pope Benedict XVI’s easing of restrictions on use of the 1962 Roman Missal, known as the Tridentine rite, is just the first step in a “reform of the reform” in liturgy, the Vatican’s top ecumenist said.
The pope’s long-term aim is not simply to allow the old and new rites to coexist, but to move toward a “common rite” that is shaped by the mutual enrichment of the two Mass forms, Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said May 14.
In effect, the pope is launching a new liturgical reform movement, the cardinal said. Those who resist it, including “rigid” progressives, mistakenly view the Second Vatican Council as a rupture with the church’s liturgical tradition, he said.
Cardinal Koch made the remarks at a Rome conference on “Summorum Pontificum,” Pope Benedict’s 2007 apostolic letter that offered wider latitude for use of the Tridentine rite. The cardinal’s text was published the same day by L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
Cardinal Koch said Pope Benedict thinks the post-Vatican II liturgical changes have brought “many positive fruits” but also problems, including a focus on purely practical matters and a neglect of the paschal mystery in the Eucharistic celebration. The cardinal said it was legitimate to ask whether liturgical innovators had intentionally gone beyond the council’s stated intentions.
He said this explains why Pope Benedict has introduced a new reform movement, beginning with “Summorum Pontificum.” The aim, he said, is to revisit Vatican II’s teachings in liturgy and strengthen certain elements, including the Christological and sacrificial dimensions of the Mass.
Cardinal Koch said “Summorum Pontificum” is “only the beginning of this new liturgical movement.”
“In fact, Pope Benedict knows well that, in the long term, we cannot stop at a coexistence between the ordinary form and the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, but that in the future the church naturally will once again need a common rite,” he said.
“However, because a new liturgical reform cannot be decided theoretically, but requires a process of growth and purification, the pope for the moment is underlining above all that the two forms of the Roman rite can and should enrich each other,” he said in a Catholic News Service report.
Cardinal Koch said those who oppose this new reform movement and see it as a step back from Vatican II lack a proper understanding of the post-Vatican II liturgical changes. As the pope has emphasized, Vatican II was not a break or rupture with tradition but part of an organic process of growth, he said.
On the final day of the conference, participants attended a Mass celebrated according to the Tridentine rite at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Walter Brandmuller presided over the liturgy. It was the first time in several decades that the old rite was celebrated at the altar.
Though he revels in the job he’s taken on this year, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick is quick to point out that he’s not altogether sold on his qualifications for the title “distinguished senior scholar” at the Library of Congress.
“I’m definitely senior, but I’m not a scholar and I’m not so sure about distinguished,” joked the retired archbishop of Washington. Nevertheless, for this year Cardinal McCarrick is officially a scholar, a visiting scholar, technically, in a post that provides him the support and resources of the largest library in the world to research a subject to his heart’s content.
Since his 2006 retirement, and despite the fact he’ll turn 81 in July, Cardinal McCarrick has hardly slowed down.
As a board member of Catholic Relief Services, he continues to travel the world and has regular speaking engagements and other activities, in the United States and beyond. In March he delivered a keynote address at a migration conference, in April he participated in the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast followed by a trip to Jordan, and in May he ordained two Franciscans in New York.
But as he said in an interview with Catholic News Service at his office in the library’s historic Thomas Jefferson building, this particular position offers him the chance to do something different than he’s done in his 53 years as a priest. And with a staff of researchers, translators and other experts available to help him.
During the yearlong post that started in January, Cardinal McCarrick is looking into how the Amman Message has evolved and what its effects have been on the teachings and practice of Islam. The subject fits one of his goals for retirement: to build bridges between Catholicism and Islam.
The Amman Message is a declaration recognizing the common principles of eight traditional schools of Islamic religious law. It was adopted by the Organization of the Islamic Conference in 2005 and over the next year by six other Islamic scholarly assemblies. It grew out of efforts by King Abdullah of Jordan in the first years after 9/11 to promote a uniform approach within Islam on the questions of: defining who a Muslim is; excommunication from Islam; and the principles for delivering religious edicts known as fatwa.
The declaration “involved some of the greatest leaders of Islam,” Cardinal McCarrick noted. “And a great number of people signed onto it, including Americans. It did accomplish some things, but it may not have done everything intended.”
Cardinal McCarrick’s interest in Islam and involvement with relations between Christians and Muslims goes back many years. In the mid-1990s he served on the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad and was one of the first members of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom when it was created in 1999. He also is chairman of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land and continues to be involved in a variety of Holy Land and Middle East peace organizations and dialogues.
Though he jokes about his qualifications as a scholar, the cardinal is no academic slouch. In addition to bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., he has a master’s and a doctorate in sociology from The Catholic University of America.
At the library, staff is available to assist him, digging through archives, navigating material on the Internet and translating documents from Arabic when necessary.
Cardinal McCarrick is impressed not only with staff members’ helpfulness and knowledge but also with the credentials of his fellow scholars at the Library of Congress. They include academics from Cambridge, Stanford, Purdue, Harvard and Columbia universities, the University of London and the Rhode Island School of Design, among others. They are researching everything from Handel’s oratorios to the impact of stress and “Thomistic natural law in American Catholicism,” the topic of a fellow from Ludwig-Maximilians University in Germany.
The cardinal said he wasn’t sure where his research will lead, perhaps a book or another kind of publication. But he’s already got in mind what he’ll work on once his year as a distinguished scholar is finished: writing his memoirs. In all his spare time.
The Interior Ministry fired seven top officials in charge of immigration matters in regions where the abduction of undocumented migrants by organized gangs has been rampant and local officials increasingly are being implicated as complicit in the crimes.
The ministry said in a May 12 statement that National Immigration Institute employees in seven states with a large northward flow of undocumented migrants would be subjected to additional screening and oversight.
The move follows revelations from judicial and human rights officials that immigration officers allegedly hand over migrants to criminal groups, who then demand ransoms from the victims’ relatives.
Catholics working with undocumented migrants welcomed the decision but also expressed skepticism with the timing.
“We’ve been telling them about this for a long time,” Father Jose Alejandro Solalinde, director of the Brothers of the Road migrant shelter in Oaxaca state, told Radio Formula.
“They accept it when it’s evident, when they can no longer hide it,” he said.
Alberto Xicotencatl, director of Belen Inn of the Migrants shelter in the northern city of Saltillo, questioned if the move was a true attempt to purge a corrupted immigration department or an attempt by the Mexican government to appear to be pro-active in advance of a summer visit by inspectors from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
“The timing appears coincidental,” Xicotencatl said.
Advocates for migrants have complained about the work of state-level immigration directors, who Xicotencatl said often rule by fiat instead of adhering to the law.
“The attitude by directors toward human rights often leaves something to be desired,” he said.
The mistreatment of undocumented migrants transiting the country has been common in Mexico for more than a decade, but worsened in recent years as criminal groups such as Los Zetas have moved in on the human trafficking business.
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission reported that 11,333 migrants were kidnapped over a six-month period in 2010 and alleged the public officials were often complicit.
The commission announced May 12 that it will investigate the seven fired state directors for alleged links to Los Zetas, Mexican media reported.
The attorney general’s office confirmed the arraignment of six immigration officers in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, who kidnapped migrants allege were complicit in their abductions.
Meanwhile, threats against Catholic-run migrant shelters have continued, Xicotencatl said. The most recent case occurred in Piedras Negras, which borders Eagle Pass, where gunmen arrived May 9 at the Dignified Border shelter and ordered the facility to close.
A shelter employee was forced into an SUV at gunpoint, had his head covered with a sack and was threatened, according to a bulletin released by Amnesty International.
Attempts to reach the shelter and a spokesman for the Diocese of Piedras Negras were unsuccessful.
Philippine authorities warned Catholics that they would be charged for back taxes if they withheld tax payments to protest provisions of the reproductive health bill pending in the country’s legislature.
Authorities also urged groups opposed to the controversial bill to dissociate themselves from civil disobedience, the Asian church news agency UCA News reported.
“If they don’t want to pay their taxes, they better talk to (Internal Revenue) Commissioner (Kim) Henares,” said Abigail Valte, spokesman for President Benigno Aquino.
Catholic leaders, including the Philippine bishops’ conference, are opposed to the bill, which would mandate that artificial contraceptives be made available.
Bishop Deogracias Iniguez Jr. of Kalookan said that while the church is not advocating civil disobedience “for now,” Catholics are obliged not to follow any law that violates their faith.
“Eventually if the measure becomes law, Catholics will not obey it. If the state orders something contrary to your faith, you are obliged not to follow it,” said Bishop Iniguez, head of the bishops’ public affairs commission.
Meanwhile, another Catholic Church official called for an “all-out war” against the measure after the bishops pulled out of talks with government officials May 10.
Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa said the talks were “doomed to fail” because Aquino has long been a supporter of the bill.
“It’s normal that we are going to have a total war now against the RH bill,” the archbishop said. “I said it before that the dialogue is useless. … I know the president was not really open for a dialogue because of his fixed decision to push the RH bill.”
He also warned that a move in the Philippine Congress to amend the constitution could lead to the abolition of its “pro-life provisions.”
Rep. Loreto Ocampos earlier said the Philippine House of Representatives is reviving the public debate on changing the constitution.
“We will sell charter (constitution) change. We will go around the country and listen to the people first, then we’ll give the positive points of charter change,” Ocampos said.
Two Catholic bishops asked the Philippine Senate to investigate the alleged misuse of government funds for family planning by Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Bishop Leonardo Medroso of Tagbilaran and Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon urged senators to call for an inquiry into allegations of the misuse of funds in the Department of Health’s family planning program made by Sen. Vicente Sotto.
Bishop Bastes praised Sotto, who admitted yesterday that his announcement of irregularities in the release of funds to local government units was timed to derail the reproductive health bill. Sotto opposes the bill.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona denied Sotto’s charges.
Catholic Bishops of Texas are supporting a May 11 amendment by Representative Scott Hochberg (D-Houston) to strengthen a House Joint Resolution regarding religious freedom (HJR 135). The amendment clarifies what action would constitute a breach of religious freedom and also broadens its applicability to all organizations, not solely religious organizations. If passed, the resolution will go to the Senate, and if passed through the Senate, it will be placed on the ballot for the next general election.
“It is vital that the legislature supports the right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, because it is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person,” stated the Texas Catholic Conference, the bishops’ policy arm, in a floor memo to the House members, referring to paragraph 1738 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order.”
In late March of this year, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, testified on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on protecting religious freedom for all. “When the very right of conscience is attacked, the ability to exercise religious beliefs is subverted,” said Cardinal McCarrick. There are well known contemporary examples where the state would force religious groups and individuals to choose between following their religious beliefs and practices and following the dictates of law.”
The Texas Catholic Conference is the association of the 15 Roman Catholic dioceses of the State of Texas and is the official public policy voice of the Bishops of Texas. For more information on the Texas Catholic Conference, visit www.TXCatholic.org.
Jesuit Father Patrick J. Conroy, a chaplain and theology teacher at Jesuit High School in Portland, has been nominated to be the next chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio announced the decision May 6 and said it was made in consultation with Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, House Democratic leader.
The priest will be the 60th House chaplain, the first Jesuit priest and the second Catholic priest in this role, succeeding Father Daniel P. Coughlin who retired in April after more than 11 years of service.
“One does not aspire to become the chaplain to a chamber of Congress,” said Father Conroy in a news release. “This opportunity to serve is an extraordinary gift, and I hope to be worthy of the trust the Speaker of the House and the Minority Leader are extending to me. I am also humbled by the confidence my Jesuit superiors are demonstrating in making me available to answer this call to serve the people’s House.”
Father Conroy’s nomination will be submitted to the full House later in May. He is expected to be sworn in May 25 as an officer of the House of Representatives.
“We are honored that Father Conroy has agreed to serve as House chaplain,” Boehner said in a statement. “His dedication to God’s work, commitment to serving others and experience working with people of faith from all traditions will make him an asset to the House community. We look forward to having his counsel and guidance in the people’s House.”
Pelosi said “the Capitol Hill community will be blessed with the addition of Father Patrick Conroy to our ranks as House chaplain. His experience working with young people, tending to the spiritual needs of a variety of communities, and serving for 38 years as a thoughtful and committed Jesuit priest will serve him well in this new role.”
She noted that the priest, “following in the distinguished footsteps of Father Daniel Coughlin,” will provide “guidance and comfort” as he ministers to the needs of the Capitol Hill community.
Father Conroy, born in 1950 in Washington state, entered the Society of Jesus in 1973 and was ordained a priest in 1983. He has a master’s degree in philosophy, a law degree and degrees in divinity and sacred theology. He served as chaplain at Georgetown University and Seattle University and has been a pastor and a missionary priest among American Indians.
In his past seven years at Jesuit High School, Father Conroy has been superior of the Jesuit community, theology teacher, assistant softball coach, campus ministry assistant, member of the school’s board of trustees, chaplain to numerous athletic teams and director of freshman retreats.
“Our Jesuit High School community has been honored to have Father Conroy serve our school,” said John Gladstone, president of Jesuit High School. He said the priest has been “significantly involved” in the high school and will be missed by faculty members, staff, students, parents, friends and alumni.
The House chaplain opens each session of Congress with a prayer asking God’s blessing on the nation and the work of House members. The chaplain also prays for special congressional events on Capitol Hill, provides pastoral counseling to the House community, coordinates the scheduling of guest chaplains and arranges memorial services for the House and its staff. In the past, chaplains have also performed marriage and funeral ceremonies for House members.
The first Congress chose its first official chaplain in 1789 and each succeeding Congress has named a chaplain, except between the years 1855 and 1861, when local clergy served as volunteer chaplains.