Another bishop falls, by his own hand

Having just hours ago posted about the deposing of an ostensibly orthodox and upright bishop in Paraguay who sadly lacked good judgment when perhaps it mattered most, news has come through that an ostensibly liberal bishop much closer to home has resigned due to his failure to keep the priestly vows.

Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton this afternoon released this statement:

I am sorry to confess that, going back some years, I have been unfaithful to my promises as a Catholic priest. I would like to reassure you that my actions were not illegal and did not involve minors.

As a result, however, I have decided to offer my resignation as bishop with immediate effect and will now take some time to consider my future.

I want to apologise first of all to the individuals hurt by my actions and then to all of those inside and outside the diocese who will be shocked, hurt and saddened to hear this.

I am sorry for the shame that I have brought on the diocese and the Church and I ask for your prayers and forgiveness.

There will be no further comment.

It is a sad day for the Church in England, and as sad a day for Bishop Conry whose career has now come to a crashing halt in such public fashion. We can only pray that as he considers his future he will make sound decisions that are for his own spiritual good and the good of the Church. Cardinal Nicholas commented that this affair “makes clear that we are always a Church of sinners called to repentance and conversion and in need of God’s mercy.” Repentance and conversion are indeed the order of the day for Bishop Conry; may he embrace this path and make his amends, at least with God.

Bishop Kieran Conry
Bishop Kieran Conry

Not surprisingly, the demise of an outspokenly liberal bishop has not been without some degree of satisfaction in some quarters. More significantly, some are asking questions that we can safely expect to assume some prominence in the next few days and weeks of fallout. Some are obvious enough, so we may as well prepare for them. Conry’s infidelity, by his own admission, goes back “some years”. Some will ask for more clarity as to this vague measure of time. Some will ask, why now resign? Some have already noted the longstanding rumours about Conry’s private life and have asked how much those in the English hierarchy knew when they pushed him forward to be bishop. Was this yet another cover-up, perhaps more palatable because the dalliance did not involve (1) a male nor (2) a minor?

Indeed, some have desired at least one outcome to this sad affair:

But perhaps at last Rome will wake up to the fact that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales is an old boys’ club that looks after its own. Kieran was one of the lads. If he hadn’t been, I suspect this scandal would have broken years ago.

I am too lowly to offer informed opinion here on such an assessment of the state of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference, nor would I want to do so. Nevertheless, in the light of the recently reported negative attitude of the Paraguayan bishops’ conference towards one of their own, the question arises almost naturally as to whether the local bishops’ conference held Bishop Conry in such positive regard as to be dangerous both for him and for the Church in England.

Looking back at Bishop Conry’s statement, some other questions will no doubt emerge from it. Of particular interest will be his future. Some might wonder of the wording of the statement is so composed as to allow for his leaving the priesthood altogether to be with his companion. He has been breaking his vows with her for “some years” (and so is not a lapse or a moment of weakness), and confesses and apologizes for the infidelity to his vows and to those who will be “hurt” by it, and for the shame it has brought on “the diocese and the Church” – but not, it seems, on himself. In other words, he seems to repent not of the relationship itself, but of its circumstances.

If so, that is better than nothing, and better late than never. However, one might wonder how a continuing relationship with his partner would cope with the aftermath of any resignation from the episcopacy and priesthood. It may only bring further harm on himself and his partner. Another path he could take is to repent fully and comprehensively, to re-commit to his vow of celibacy and resume, after a suitable period, the priestly ministry. Then, indeed, something of great and manifest value could be salvaged. The Church always benefits from the example of sinners who repent. Why could this not be the new direction his life should take? What fruit he could bear!

Whatever happens, all of us should be praying for him, that having confessed he might now repent and so experience the lavish mercy of God.

8 thoughts on “Another bishop falls, by his own hand

  1. These things hurt me…. Some people take it in stride, but maybe because I really BELIEVE in the possibility of holiness, and rely myself on the strength that comes from those around us (especially our shepherds), my heart breaks for all of those who will be hurt and scandalized. Maybe we SHOULDN’T believe that any human being is truly good except our Lord – but, we do. It helps us be strong ourselves. And then, when they reveal themselves as not just sinners, but deceitful….it makes one feel for a bit as though there is no goodness anywhere and no point in making the effort.

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    1. Ah but Annie, ’twas always thus, and ’twill always ever be in this world. Such failures in our leaders remind us to put our trust in God, not man. And to ask ourselves, when was the last time we fervently prayed for our priests and bishops. That is the very least service we must render them.

      Pax.

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  2. At least two amours in recent years, if press reports are accurate.
    My first – admittedly rather tongue-in-cheek – reaction, is that he has been getting far more dates than I do, and I am an unmarried layman.
    We simply can’t have all the available (and unavailable) women commandeered by bishops. It wouldn’t be fair on the rest of us.

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  3. There has obviously been a lot of comment on this sad case. Two articulate, married men (one of them a married priest [former Anglican minister]) have made the points that Bishop Kieran has chosen to ignore in his public statements: Fr Dwight Longenecker (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2014/09/should-we-forgive-bishop-conry.html) and Dr Joseph Shaw (http://www.lms.org.uk/news-and-events/chairman-s-blog).

    There is thus far little evidence that Bishop Kieran holds marriage in much esteem, which only goes to make the article in The Tablet doubly flawed: (http://www.thetablet.co.uk/blogs/1/452/kieran-conry-fell-from-grace-tripped-up-by-tradition).

    All this is nothing new, but incomplete apologies from the bishop and unreflective, nay plain ignorant, comment on the supposed ‘harm’ done by clerical celibacy will not help anyone draw lessons from what has happened.

    It seems reasonable to suggest that if Bishop Kieran really felt called to marriage, he would have resigned years ago and would never have accepted his appointment as bishop.

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    1. Salve David! I think you hit the nail on the head at the end there. Conry seems to exhibit no call to marriage; rather he evidences a craven surrender to lust and self-gratification, even at the expense of the marriages of others.

      OK; such sins can be forgiven, and we should never cast stones at the penitent sinner. Ever. But the question remains: where is his penitence? Did I miss it?

      Obviously, penitent or not, he needs our prayers.

      Pax.

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  4. “Another path he could take is to repent fully and comprehensively, to re-commit to his vow of celibacy and resume, after a suitable period, the priestly ministry.”

    Can the Church afford to have such a man in the priestly ministry, Fr.? We have quite draconian safeguarding rules these days which extend to vulnerable adults as well as minors. I can’t say that I would trust him with my fellow parishioners, even were he to express repentance for these offences. (At the moment he doesn’t even appear to be aware of all the offences he has committed – he really thinks he did a good “job”!)

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    1. Salve Augustine!

      I’ll be honest – my heart was not in the section you quoted. It is sincere in that it is a valid option in many circumstances.

      However, the more I have heard about the case, from the bishop’s own interviews, the more I am convinced he must go, and I have been saying as much on Facebook. Years of ongoing infidelity, and he resigned only because the press, through an irate and wronged husband, were on to him – he does not manifest even a nodding adherence to professional standards for clergy.

      And the silence of the bishops worries me very much.

      Pax!

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