The Catholic bishops of England and Wales are to hold an inquiry into the case of the Rt Rev Kieran Conry, he of the two (or is it three?) girlfriends, who resigned as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton when he had a crisis of conscience caused by the tabloids knocking on his door.
Displaying their celebrated transparency, the bishops have decided to keep the name of the ‘chair’ of the inquiry secret. The committee will focus on whether Conry breached guidelines on ‘vulnerable adults’. I very much doubt whether it will ask why Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor persuaded Rome to make his protégé a bishop when his relationship with a woman was already common knowledge. Conry was ‘one of us’, you see: a member of the Magic Circle of ambitious liberals (life president, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor; honorary press officer, Doctor A. Ivereigh) who had various nuncios wrapped round their little fingers.
Meanwhile, what about Catholics who are not ‘one of us’? You can’t get further from the Magic Circle than the parishioners of Our Lady of the Rosary, in Blackfen, Kent. The previous parish priest, Fr Tim Finigan, is a traditionalist who celebrated the Tridentine Latin Mass on Sundays – but also the New Mass, in strict conformity with rules laid down by Pope Benedict XVI. No sooner had he left earlier this year than the new PP, Fr Steven Fisher, cancelled the traditional services. Fr Fisher has the backing of his boss, Archbishop Peter Smith, but it’s a decision that has caused terrible distress to traditional Catholics for whom the old Mass at Blackfen was the centre of their spiritual lives. Now, you could argue that an incoming pastor is entitled to change – gently – the way things are done in his parish; but in this case the new man, having apparently concluded that the traddies were ‘divisive’, has effected change in a brutal fashion that has left his flock truly divided. More of a Cromwell than a Fisher, you might say.
This is what I can’t stand about the Catholic Church in England and Wales: one rule for the bishops, another for the little people. And before you accuse me of bias, let me say that it would have been just as bad if the Church were dominated by Cardinal Burke-style traditionalists, one of whom had been promoted despite lots of people knowing he had a mistress, and Blackfen were a liberal but faithful parish whose service book had been torn up.
Let me say it again: one rule for the bishops, right-on priests and ’empowered’ liberal laity; another for the little folk telling their beads. The Magic Circle turned a blind eye to Conry’s domestic arrangements (as did many Catholic journalists, including me). But they were not prepared to tolerate the goings-on at Blackfen depicted in the photograph below: