Pat Conroy S.J., House Chaplain

        This week ( on May 26) Pat Conroy S.J., a Jesuit of the Oregon Province, is due to be inaugurated as the 60th House Chaplain for the House of Representatives-- the first such Jesuit chaplain and only the second Catholic priest to hold the position. I knew Pat almost thirty years ago when he was a student at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley where I taught on the faculty. He took my course on Catholic Social Teaching. Naturally, I am delighted at his being chosen for the task. I have always felt a warm kindness toward Pat because he rescued me, one exceedingly cold morning in Washington, D.C., when I arrived at the Georgetown Jesuit residence. After trying in vain to alert several older fathers who passed by the front window I was knocking on ( in, perhaps naive, kindness I presume they were deaf and blind), I was left stranded in the cold. Eventually, Pat let me indoors and kindly helped me find my room and asked if there was anything else he could do for me.

      To my dismay, however, a kind of firestorm broke out after his nomination was made known on May 11. By a kind of ' guilt by association', various groups, including S.N.A.P., tried to link Conroy somehow to the stupendous financial settlement ( $166 million dollars) his Jesuit province made to cover allegations of some 400 claims of sexual abuse of under-aged people by Jesuits and non-Jesuit lay workers in Oregon's Jesuit apostolates. At the news conference at Jesuit High in Portland where Conroy recently taught, S.N.A.P. ( a major support group for victims of clerical sexual abuse) laid out an array of pictures of children abused by priests. Some groups claimed that any priest from the Oregon Province ( no matter his own inner probity) should never be considered for such a public position as House Chaplain.


      In his career, Conroy twice served as a priest ministering to Native Americans. Many of the alleged sex abuse cases from the Oregon Province's past ( note: not its recent past!) occurred on Native American reservations ( especially in Alaska). None, however, occurred when Conroy served the reservation. On one occasion, in 1986, Conroy wrote the Archbishop of Seattle to tell him that an under-aged person had informed him that a priest of the diocese had propositioned him ( nothing as such, in the event, actually occurred). Later, in 2002, that priest was ultimately de-frocked for sexual abuse of minors. As Conroy has noted, when he heard of the allegation he did what he should have then done--reported it, immediately, to the man's Archbishop.

        Reflecting on this recent firestorm and attempt to paint Conroy by guilt by association, I was led again to think about the complicated reality of forgiveness. A few weeks ago I wrote a review, for the on-line culture section of America magazine, of the two- part PBS series on Forgiveness. In it, I noted that some victims do not choose to forgive ( although they may ultimately suffer from not doing so). Some perpetrators may need merely to make amends, even if forgiveness for their wrong is never offered them. In an on-line blog for former members of the California Jesuits ( Companeros), several bloggers faulted me for not raising that issue of sex abuse of minors in my review and remarks about forgiveness ( how it is not always easy to forgive or be forgiven). The T.V. series I was reviewing, however, never raised the issue.

        Sometimes one gets the impression that some victims of priest abuse will never forgive the church, no matter what. Whatever the church does to try to make amends ( in statements of sorrow, in monetary settlements) gets met with claims that it is not enough, not sincere, not attached to appropriate action. To be sure, even non-victims ( such as myself) may still have difficulty believing that some of our bishops really ' get it' or always act consequently on accusations of sex abuse of minors. Almost no erring bishop who hid or covered up abusing priests has ever been removed from office or been really censored. So, in fairness, it may not yet be time for some 'easy' forgiveness for the church's sins in this matter.

      I am reminded, however, of two powerful slogans of 12 Step recovery programs. The first has to do with forgiving both oneself and others who have wronged us:  "Let Go and Let God." Not to forgive, often enough, means that victims never let go of past hurts, never turn to rebuild a new life. The second slogan has to do with the insistence of 12 Step recovery programs that the person who has done wrong to others must make amends ( both by changing their behavior and trying to undo wrongs committed against others). They are called to amends, even if forgiveness by the one wronged never is rendered back to them. Making amends is about justice and integrity, not forgiveness as such.

      One reason victims who do not forgive can suffer is that in their ( often justified) anger and desire for a just amends, they can also overstep and cause harm themselves, actually victimize others. S.N.A.P. and other groups' attempt to paint Conroy in guilt by association is just such a real harm. I was in Conroy's home province, at Seattle University, making my annual retreat, when the firestorm about his appointment became public. I know of few Jesuit communities as hospitable and edifying as the Jesuit community at Seattle University. I always come away from visits there uplifted in spirit by being with such Jesuits. A Jesuit scholastic friend of mine who has been teaching at Seattle University told me he too knew of few Jesuit communities of such support, solidarity and genuine fervor. But, he said, many of them were quite depressed because the huge sex abuse settlement from the Oregon Province has led, for them too, to a kind of ' guilt by association' for things they themselves never did nor would countenance. Moreover, the settlement which has bankrupted the Oregon Province means that alternate uses of such money ( for scholarships for the poor etc.) are not now available.

        Jesuits will recall, surely, Saint Ignatius' urging of a prayer for " the third degree of humility". That third degree of humility means that Jesuits pray to accept false accusations and slanders, inasmuch as being victims of them they can become closer to Jesus who was also slandered and falsely accused. I suspect Conroy recalled that Ignatian prayer when confronted with the attempts to paint him with guilt by association.

       In any event, I feel assured that this experience, along with his early ministry to Native Americans, may make Conroy especially sensitive to victims and those most in need of support. Surely, just now, our House of Representatives also may need some reminders of an option for the poor, as it attempts to slash programs which Catholic social teaching claims are essential for human dignity ( adequate housing, jobs, medical care as a human right). Without injecting any partisan political content into his prayers in the House ( he will not!), I hope and pray Conroy will pick up that central Jewish-Christian theme, so central to the scriptures, that God will ultimately judge us on how we deal with widows, orphans and resident aliens in our land!

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SNAP Network
8 years 4 months ago
Fr. Coleman apparently didn't read our statement about Fr. Conroy. We oppose Conroy because of HIS actions, not those of his Jesuit colleagues and superiors. Here's what we wrote:
"In 1986, the priest who hopes to be the next Congressional chaplain knew of likely child sex crimes but didn’t call the police. Instead, he just told an archbishop once. And he never followed up.
Fr. Patrick Conway is a smart, well-educated man. He knew child molestation was a crime. He knew suspected crimes should be reported to police. But he didn’t.
He obviously should have called the police. 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.
Even now, he could show some integrity and courage and admit ‘I should have called the police. I’m very sorry I didn’t. I will call them today and share what I know with them.’ But he hasn’t."

To read the whole statement, go to
Joelle Casteix
8 years 4 months ago
Fr. Coleman's logic has a fatal flaw: he confuses forgiveness with accountability.

Forgiveness, that is, letting go of anger with the church, is the "gift I give myself." And in this case - as with the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church - it is totally irrelevant.  

What we - SNAP and other survivors groups and individuals - are doing is holding the church ACCOUNTABLE.  That is the gift we give our communities. How can a victim ever forgive him/herself when s/he stays silent, and then the predator who hurt them goes on to abuse others?

What Fr. Coleman is saying is that victims should forgive and go away.  If we had done that, who knows how many other children would have been molested by the dozens of priests who have been outed, arrested or successfully named in court cases in the past year?  Are victims supposed to "roll over" and encourage law enforcement in Philly to suspend their grand jury report?  NO.

Coleman's insulting, simplistic and incorrect argument is the reason that the crisis and cover-up has been allowed to flourish for decades, perhaps centuries: because a powerful priest pats victims on the head; tells them that they are sinful, wrong and in need or moral repair; and then uses his position of power to marginalize the victim and keep him/her silent.

Shame on you Fr. Coleman.  Your Jesuit training taught you that forgiveness does not trump vigilance and accountability.  Perhaps you should look into some CLEs in Ethics and Moral Responsibility.
8 years 4 months ago
Fr. Malone,  It is heartening to read about a good and faithful priest receiving recognition and a new responsible position as chaplain in the House.  There are so many good, holy priests that bless us with their works and so few that receive the love they deserve from the laity.  They live the beatitudes daily.  We have two retired missionaries living in our parish who provide needed help with daily Masses and parish ministries.  One is badly crippled with arthritis and still is serving.  Today, he asked us if he receives the Body and Blood of Christ everyday and doesn't work in Christ's Kingdom, is he a Christian.  That is a call to Christian action if ever there was one.

I'm saddened that Fr. Conroy is receiving so much opposition from a lay group.  To the SNAP commentators :  Isn't it possible to disagree with someone (Fr. Malone, in this case) and not insult the person?  I'd recommend to all readers the books by Fr. Robert J. Schreiter.  One is:  "Reconciliation: Mission and Ministry in a Changing Social Order". Fr. Schreiter gives 5 points in his discussion of a Christian Understanding of Reconciliation: 
     1). It is God who initiates and brings about reconciliation.
     2) Reconciliation is more a spirituality than a strategy
     3) Reconciliation makes of both victim and oppressor a new creation.
     4) The new narrative that overcomes the narrative of the lie is the story of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
     5) Reconciliation is a multidimensional reality  See 2 Corinthians, 5
8 years 4 months ago
(continued from #3.)
Fr. Schreiter in another chapter discusses the resources in the church in the ministry of reconciliation such as Confession, The Eucharist, the wounds of Christ, the Cross.  It is tragic for those who were molested by clergy to be separated from the church , by righteous anger, from the spiritual resources the church has to offer.  The question we have to ask ourselves is how do we help victims heal.  I am personally and professionally very aware of the  needs of victims and the ways we/they can be helped or harmed.  Forgiveness and reconciliation has become one of the paramount issues of my lilfe.  I was molested as a young girl by an intimidating boy cousin and later in life, emotionally abused in therapy.  I know that forgivess is hard, hard, hard.  The boy was easy to forgive, he was just a boy.  The therapist, not so easy.  Finally, after many years and prayers, I found it in my heart to forgive him.  God does work wonders. My professional life was as a social worker with abused children.  My own experience gave me great empathy and understanding for the child victims I helped.  Anger is understandable, but to seek vengeance is not healing.  We are always vulnerable and can be harmed by even those who think they are helping us.  I have witnessed our society go from total denial (and thus, no therapy) to recognition of molest and few services for children molested in their own homes.  Not enough money for them.  Thousands of dollars do not bring healing to those molested by clergy, but sufficient funds to child protection agencies  can enable social workers to access appropriate therapy for children molested in their own homes.  Where is the justice there?  As Catholics we are responsible and accountable for ALL children.1
8 years 4 months ago
I'd like to continue my comments from #3 and #4 after tending to my children.  I agree, Fr. Malone that the two steps you mentioned are very powerful:  to forgive oneself and others who have wronged us ("let go and let God) and making amends even when one is not forgiven.  There is something about getting older and facing death that prompts me to want to die in peace with those I have wronged and those who have wronged me.   Situations can be very different, as I have experienced them.  My brother and I reconciled a few years ago after a long estrangement over an act of his that wronged me.  There was no making of amends, but with God's grace, I was able to forgive him.  My ex-husband and I mutually forgave one another and were at peace at the time he died.  This was very healing for our children as well as for ourselves.  A recent friendship ended badly.  I hurt my friend and I would do most anything to make amends.  I've tried every which way to no avail and have reached a point where I can do nothing more.  It is time to "let go and let God."  I recently signed up for our parish's healing prayer ministry.  I think another facet of getting older is realizing one's vulnerabilities and powerlessness.  We get a lot of healthy doses of humililty just by living!  Thanks, Fr. M. for your excellent article.  Are you in Ca now?1
8 years 4 months ago
My apologies, Fr. Coleman for giving credit to Fr. Malone for your excellent article.  I have two big distractions in my children who need a lot of care and supervision.  That's my excuse!  Not the fact that I have too many senior moments!  Today, I read your review of the pbs program on forgiveness.  So, I do want to thank you for both articles and wish you well up there in beautiful San Francisco.  Pretty nice down here, too.  Janice Johnson


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