29 September 2014, The Tablet

Kieran Conry fell from grace, tripped up by tradition

One of the most common arguments in favour of ordaining married men is that the Catholic Church in many parts of the world is suffering a priest shortage and it can’t afford to lose any more good men to marriage. Many dedicated Catholic young men don’t even consider the priesthood because they know that a life of celibacy is not for them; the ability to live without the possibility of ever marrying is not a gift they possess.

It is easy to tag the word “scandal” to the sudden resignation of Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton this weekend. The Mail on Sunday reported that he had an affair with a woman six years ago and the paper made allegations about the nature of his relationship with a 43-year-old married parishioner, although he denies their friendship was sexual.

In a message read out at Masses in his diocese this weekend he said he had been “unfaithful to my promises as a Catholic priest” – but he added “I would like to reassure you that my actions were not illegal and did not involve minors.”

So it’s a scandal in as much as he broke the vow of celibacy that he made when he was ordained at 25 and as a result of his affair, lived out double-standards.

Conry told the Daily Mail later he was “relieved” that his affair six years ago was now out in the open. “I don’t think people would say I have been a bad bishop. But I can’t defend myself. I did wrong. Full stop.”

His departure is clearly a loss to the Catholic Church – a personable, popular, down-to-earth pastor who did a fantastic job in the Church’s communications department. And it’s a blow to the Church’s integrity – but not a devastating one. Assuming Bishop Kieran has told the full story, his resignation highlights a fundamental weakness in the rules regarding clergy in England and Wales.

For around the table at plenary meetings of the Catholic bishops’ conference is a man who has been married for decades and has three children, and who has been a Catholic for three years – Mgr Keith Newton, whom Pope Benedict XVI enabled to enter the Catholic Church via an ordinariate for former Anglicans. In addition to three married monsignors and 84 priests in the ordinariate, there are 302 former Anglican priests ordained into the Catholic Church via the conventional way. Only those who were unmarried when they were ordained into the Catholic Church would have been expected to be celibate. Had Bishop Conry been allowed to marry, he would have been able to enter one healthy, public and lifelong relationship rather than ending up in the pages of the Mail.

It’s not new to point out that lifelong devoted Catholic priests must remain celibate while former Anglicans can turn up with their wives, children and home lives. But with the departure of Kieran Conry, the need to iron out this bizarre discrepancy – which is costing the Catholic Church many potentially good clergy – is all the more glaring.

Abigail Frymann Rouch is The Tablet's Online Editor

What do you think?


You can post as a subscriber user ...

User comments (15)

Comment by: melvin
Posted: 04/10/2014 21:43:30

Am I missing something? The bishop had an affair with a married woman. He broke up a marriage. There are children involved.

Comment by: mark-chapman
Posted: 04/10/2014 21:28:35

I'm quite puzzled at the sea of relatively sympathetic sentiment that has bobbed around on this. It's important to be open-minded, I believe - but for a clergyman to cause so much hurt and messy chaos to the Church (Christ's Body) yet again - and publicly too - isn't right, we all probably know that. My daughter was confirmed by Bishop Conry, photos with him this year as a permanent memory of a happy day - but now how is this properly explained?

Hmm - what would Jesus say... was thinking on that... he might stare at the ground + run his finger on the dusty earth, look up and might have said "so, no-one has condemned you, neither do I - go + sin no more". But he would be aware the issues need properly sorting, as best as humans can, because that helps his Body on earth, the Church.

One could say if you're in the wrong job, then leave - don't wait for a public scandal. Like any job, shirking responsibilities is nigh on impossible when it is clear it is your fault - you have no choice but to face the music and sort things out if you can - or quit, as happened here I guess. Maybe Bishop Conry had shirked responsibility for his actions for years? Don't know but it is a fair question to raise now.

We look for and would like to count on more from Christian leaders. Christian leadership is failing so often, like politicians, that it is increasingly our families at home who have to be the Rock that our children need I think. And we're not perfect obviously.

Comment by: kj
Posted: 02/10/2014 13:54:23

Update: I meant " obvious challenge"

Comment by: kj
Posted: 01/10/2014 21:39:47

Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.

Be perfect (best translation is "mature") as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Merciful and mature in our love,for all. No one can really argue with any of the comments,on both sides,but that doesn't relieve us of the obituary challenge to follow Christ in our response to our brothers and sisters out AND in the church.

Comment by: Noventa
Posted: 30/09/2014 22:56:27

So will the bishop was allowed to resign. if he were a priest he would've been placed on administrative leave and whisked off to St Luke's in Washington for assessment. On arrival he would have to remove his belt and have his luggage searched. A full medical assessment would follow to include a test for HIV. He would then share a room, with no lock on the door or bathroom with a suspected paedophiles, gambler or alcoholic. A full week of psychological assessment would follow in which he would be invited to share his full sexual history. At the end of the assement he would probably be admitted into the 6 month rehabilitation programme where he would be broken in order to be restored. If successful he would return to his diocese under close supervision and outpatient care.
alternatively, if he has any sense, he will walk away and leave the church. I did and the best decision I ever made.

Comment by: Deacon Paul
Posted: 30/09/2014 21:23:44

Bishop Conroy has betrayed all those priests who, having struggled with celibacy have stayed loyal to their vows. He has also been deceitful in covering up his actions. As to his attitude to the consequences of his actions, this represents the highest level of indifference.

Comment by: Jim McCrea
Posted: 30/09/2014 20:47:40

Mamaia: vows, like people, are subject to change based on growth, despair, delusion, disillusion and, most likely in this case, loneliness.

Don't be so quick to be so rigid. If everyone was perfect, there would be no need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation .... over and over and over.

Comment by: Denis
Posted: 30/09/2014 12:15:18

"Bishop Kieran is by all means a sincere man of God and one capable of doing much good, if the Church authorities do not stand in his way."
Bishop Kieran had a relationship with a woman. He apologised once his hand was forced by the Daily Mail. This faux sympathy is wasted.

Comment by: mamamia
Posted: 30/09/2014 11:50:26

When people take vows before God and their fellow man, they are not retractable. Bishop Conry knew this and yet kept his silence until a journalist threatened to expose him. It is this total secrecy that the Church engages in that makes everything so much worse, as we have witnessed in the child abuse scandal.

If Bishop Conry had been fully committed to the pastoral work he was ordained for, it is unlikely he would have found the time to have an affair in the first instance.

Comment by: Ted Greswick
Posted: 30/09/2014 07:08:18

I think it is high time the laity spoke with one voice to Pope Francis about priestly celibacy: to make it available for those who want/need it and let others behave as St. Paul allows. Bishop Kieran is by all means a sincere man of God and one capable of doing much good, if the Church authorities do not stand in his way.
If such men are not defended, we cannot expect to have better ones given to serve the Church.
The neoplatonic condemnation of all things corporeal is to blame for the man-made rule of celibacy: celibacy is to do with matters celestial, not terrestrial and this is something the "great" Augustine Aurelius failed to grasp.
I think a campaign of support should be organized by Catholics of A&B diocese for Bishop Kieran in order to save such a fine man and to help Pope Francis make the right decision.

Comment by: bt
Posted: 30/09/2014 03:03:13

This article seems grossly unfair to Bishop Kieran Conry. If the church changed its disciplines on married priests, you would force him to marry one of his two girl friends. Who would he choose. Or would you force him to commit adultery or bigamy? Please do not be judgemental.

Comment by: pascal78
Posted: 29/09/2014 22:51:55

It seems from the comments so far that the main virtue for a bishop is to be nice and friendly, even 'inspiring'. Surely his main vocation in life is not to be 'nice' to people,to his admirers, but to imitate Christ. It is to live a chaste life, a celibate life. Not a life of one big lie. Why don't you supporters of him see this? If he had been grumpy and not so personable you would probably all said he was a bad bishop. How shallow, how sad. The Catholic people are getting to think like the Protestants . . .

Comment by: Mark Coley
Posted: 29/09/2014 16:18:47

If you had ever been at any of Kieran's liturgies you would have seen someone trying to put across a faith in a way that those present might understand. He would try to share what he had in a gentle and inclusive manner, leaving space for God to speak to us. His methods worked. They may have been different to those of other bishops but we can only be ourselves. He was approachable and inspiring and, despite recent events, can still be. Conversations can't be undone and cakes can't be unbaked. It may be that looking back, as he suggested we do during the International Mass in Lourdes this summer, the perspective changes. But the view behind will still have many beautiful features. The footsteps may have wandered but the overall direction would be sound. There are many paths in life and not all of them go the way we really want them to. Our humanity shows through in how we deal with these. Life can be difficult for many people and it is during difficult times that a supportive community can help. Kieran asked for our prayers.

Comment by: AlanWhelan
Posted: 29/09/2014 15:54:08

It was very sad to read of this scandal. I always admired the work of Bishop Kieran in Lourdes, especially with youth and young families, and in annual Migrants' Mass in Westminster Cathedral.
What especially worries me today is the number of blogs I have seen from dissatisfied A&B parishioners who felt that their bishop was too liberal on liturgical and other issues. What I have experienced in these fora is surely the GOSSIP that Pope Francis made reference to very recently.
In respect of Abigail's linking this to the question of married clergy I am not so sure. I would compare it to the issue of a married priest or deacon having a relationship with someone other than their spouse.
In any event I wish Bishop Kieran well and trust that he might follow the excellent example of Bishop Eamon Casey who quietly continued his priestly ministry elsewhere.
Meanwhile we should encourage prayer for Bishop Kieran and others hurt by this scandal. We should also encourage parishioners to make meaningful recommendations to the Nuncio in respect of an episcopal successor.

Comment by: Edd Bartlett
Posted: 29/09/2014 14:07:53

It is sad to see Bishop Kieran essentially forced out by the media by having his private life exposed. On the occasions that I have met him, mainly in Lourdes, but also locally in passing he has always been pleasant, friendly and personable. He also had an excellent relationship with the youth of the church.
However I can certainly see why he must feel relieved, I will be interested to see what his future will hold - it would be nice if he was able to continue priestly ministry...but we shall see.
I certainly think this demonstrates once again how the requirement of celibacy is loosing the church good priests.

  Loading ...