This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is an unexpected controversy over Republicans’ choice to be the new House Chaplain.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) introduced the Rev. Patrick Conroy as his choice last week, and Conroy, a Catholic priest, was poised to become only the second non-Protestant pastor to become the official House Chaplain in American history. This week, however, the selection ran into some trouble.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is reconsidering her support for a Catholic priest nominated as House chaplain after learning that he works for a Jesuit group ordered to pay $166 million for more than 400 claims of child sexual abuse.

A spokesman for the California Democrat told Roll Call on Tuesday night that Speaker John Boehner’s office did not tell Pelosi about the March settlement — the largest ever by a single religious order to victims of sexual abuse — by the Rev. Patrick Conroy’s current employer, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus.

“We are most sympathetic to the concerns of the families [of victims] and take their views very seriously,” spokesman Drew Hammill said in an email. “Mr. Boehner has now provided us with additional, new information. As with the information he provided earlier along with his recommendation, we will now review these new materials.”

Conroy has never been accused of abusing children or participating in the Roman Catholic Church’s larger cover-up. His role in a scandal-plagued order, however, gave some pause, however, about being elevated to a prestigious role in Congress.

Indeed, there were some Democratic concerns that Boehner’s office was less than forthcoming when it came to informing other members about Conroy’s background.

As the week progressed, Pelosi’s concerns appeared to have been assuaged, putting Conroy on track for approval. The story did get me thinking, though, about why the House finds it necessary to spend our money to pay a religious leader to tend to politicians’ spiritual needs. It’s a diverse body of 435 people, who are more than capable of seeking religious counsel on their own.

If Boehner thinks “we’re broke” and he’s looking for spending cuts, why not make the House Chaplain a volunteer post?

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Bahrain: “In Shiite villages across this island kingdom of 1.2 million, the Sunni Muslim government has bulldozed dozens of mosques as part of a crackdown on Shiite dissidents, an assault on human rights that is breathtaking in its expansiveness.” (thanks to R.P.)

* In Iran, allies of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been charged with “sorcery,” and stand accused of “using supernatural powers to further his policies.”

* The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) became the latest denomination to allow openly gay people in same-sex relationships to be ordained as ministers, elders, and deacons.

* A Seattle-area atheist will look after your pets in the event of the Rapture. He already has 250 clients. (thanks to M.W. for the tip)

* And a newspaper catering to ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York apologized this week for editing out the women out of the famous photograph of the White House Situation Room during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.