Update: The Mail has now published its allegations against Bishop Conry. They’re much more serious than I imagined. He appears to have behaved disgracefully; by his own admission there is more than one woman involved. I’ll quote only the last paragraph, which goes to heart of the matter: the responsibility of the Catholic Church for allowing this man to run an important diocese during years of rumours, well-founded in at least two cases.
Clare Kirby, the lawyer for the estranged husband, said last night: ‘My client is considering pursuing a possible High Court action against the Catholic Church because they’ve known for years that the Bishop has been having affairs and if they’d taken action he almost certainly would not have lost his marriage and his children would not be having to be brought up in a broken family.’
My original post:
The Rt Rev Kieran Conry, Bishop of Arundel and Brighton and one of England’s most influential Catholic bishops, has suddenly resigned. Here’s his statement, to be read out at Masses in his diocese:
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.
Someone on Twitter reacted as follows: ‘There are blind amoeba in Andromeda galaxy who knew about +Conry for decades; everyone knew; any denials by “luvvies” disingenuous.’
Hmm. I didn’t ‘know’ anything. But I doubt there was a Catholic journalist in the country who hadn’t heard rumours that Bishop Conry had a long-standing girlfriend. But we gave him the benefit of the doubt. Here’s what gets up my nose. I liked Kieran a lot when he was press officer for the English bishops: he didn’t give us any bullshit and let slip the odd bit of gossip. We were all pleased when he was made a bishop. Sure, he was a liberal, but they all were.
Then, shortly after taking office, he started bullying the parish of the Sacred Heart, Hove, for using too much Latin in its main Sunday Mass. I rang him up and said: this is outrageous – it’s not some elaborate Old Rite service, just a dignified Novus Ordo said mostly in English with nice music (such a rarity). The distress Conry caused by barging in and trying to wreck it was enormous and completely avoidable. Since then traditionalist priests in his diocese have had their collars felt for worshipping in the style of Benedict XVI. Kieran would often refuse to answer letters from his clergy; but Left-wing laity slagging off traditionalists always got a sympathetic hearing.
Meanwhile, the hardline liberal group Acta, opposed to the Church’s teaching on sexuality, operated with his approval in his diocese. (Here’s a furious report by an orthodox Catholic blogger.) Now the bishop has admitted breaking his promises ‘going back some years’. Unlike the priests he was harassing, who kept theirs.
It’s no secret that Bishop Conry was Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s chosen successor in Arundel and Brighton. And what Catholics are entitled to ask is: did Cardinal Cormac investigate the already extant rumours at the time he was advancing his cause? (My sources say he carried on lobbying for him, by the way, apparently hoping that +Kieran would be further promoted.) Also, did Cardinal Vincent Nichols ignore the rumours when he appointed Bishop Conry to be head of evangelisation for England and Wales?
I don’t want to dance on Kieran’s grave because I feel sad that the warm, generous priest I knew turned out to be an authoritarian bishop – and because none of us should throw the first stone when it comes to lapses in personal life. 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.