Cardinal Nichols this morning faces his biggest crisis since he became Archbishop of Westminster in 2009. On Saturday Bishop Kieran Conry – head of evangelisation for England and Wales – resigned as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton after (at least) two affairs with women became public. Now Conry has told the Mail:
In some respects I feel very calm. It is liberating. It is a relief. I have been very careful not to make sexual morality a priority [in his sermons]. I don’t think it got in the way of my job, I don’t think people would say I have been a bad bishop.
Conry goes on to say that ‘I can’t defend myself. I did wrong. Full stop.’ But he has just defended himself by saying that his womanising didn’t get in the way of his job, that he didn’t preach about sex, and that he was a good bishop.
This is called rubbing the noses of your flock in the sex scandal you’ve just landed on them. As I blogged on Saturday, lots of people – especially including his priests – thought he was an awful bishop, because he treated anyone who disagreed with him with cold arrogance, because he slagged off Benedict XVI and because they knew, but were too polite to say, that he was a womaniser.
Conry also ‘denied to the Mail that Church leaders had known about his affair’. And this is where Cardinal Nichols, President of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has questions to answer.
It’s likely that Nichols and his fellow bishops didn’t know about this affair – i.e. the one that, according to an unnamed furious husband, broke up a marriage. Possibly they didn’t know about the other love affair Conry has admitted to: bizarrely, when the Mail doorstepped him about the married woman on Saturday he said he was resigning over an earlier relationship.
I don’t know how many Mrs Conrys there have been over the years: the rumours date back decades. But I have it on good authority that (a) several English bishops, (b) a former papal nuncio to Britain and (c) the Congregation for Bishops in Rome were concerned about the stories. When Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor wanted to make his protégé a bishop, Conry was asked about them. And lied.
So the idiots in the Church either took him at his word, which implies an incredible level of naivety, or decided to bend the rules. According to one source, ‘the priest [now a bishop] who reported Kieran to the authorities was told that since the Congregation for Bishops was satisfied, there was nothing he could do about it’.
All of which makes Cardinal Nichols’s bland initial response to Conry’s disgrace – ‘This is a sad and painful moment. All involved in this situation are much in my prayers today’ – seem inadequate. Meanwhile, his famously incompetent press office last night ‘declined to respond to allegations of a cover-up about the bishop’s love life’.
Let’s be clear about one thing. Vincent Nichols is himself a faithful bishop who upholds Catholic teaching on sexual morality. He’s also never been Kieran Conry’s biggest fan. He could be forgiven for laying much of the blame for this outrage on his predecessor, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, who packed the episcopacy with ‘the boys’ – opportunistic liberals in his own mould, of whom Kieran was the most colourful example.
But there was some sort of cover-up, and it continued under the Nichols regime. And many, many Catholics, who are extremely angry at being betrayed by a senior bishop who doesn’t give a stuff what they think, are demanding to know the shape and extent of that cover-up. To quote the senior cleric who rang me yesterday, ‘Conry was not an abuser, but it needs to be said that this is the mentality that protected the paedophiles. One rule for us, another for the poor folk in the pews.’