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.