10 October 2014

Bishop Kieran Conry

I feel immensely disquieted by the Bishop Conry business. Not because of his sins. We are all sinners, so who am I to throw stones at others? Who has set me up to judge others? It is not given to me to know whether the sins I have committed were greater offences against the graces given to me than were his sins against the graces he received. The safest way is for me to assume that they were, and to repent accordingly.

No; it is his statements, as given in that most public of fora, the Press, that disturb me. Perhaps, in his very understandable panic, he has said what he did not mean to say. We can all 'misspeak'. But, as they stand, his words seem to be so dreadfully revealing. True, he has uttered some words of regret and of acknowledgement that he did wrong. But ...

"I would like to reassure you that my actions were not illegal and did not involve minors". Indeed? So if someone with a pedophile orientation falls victim to his temptations, that is reprehensible, but if someone with a heterosexual orientation falls victim to his temptations, that is a matter for 'reassurance'? Three decades of schoolmastering left me with a conviction that extra-marital relationships contributing to acrimonious marital breakdown often abuse the adolescent children of a marriage very gravely.

"I will now take some time to consider my future". Not "I will accept the immediate judgement of my superiors how I might best atone for my sinful and sacrilegious way of life by living in penitential retirement". Indeed, 'sin' does not feature in Bishop Conry's pronouncements. "I" and "my" seem to be logically as well as syntactically prominent terms. His words almost suggest that his 'consideration' might not necessarily exclude the question of whether to spend that 'future' with some woman.

"In some respects I feel very calm. It is liberating. It is a relief." This is what I find hardest: his ... apparent ... chilling serenity with regard to having lived for years, as he appears to admit (I pray God that I may be misunderstanding his words), in a state of unrepented mortal sin and, in that state, having repeatedly approached and confected the Sacraments; perhaps even having accepted Episcopal Consecration while aware of an ineradicable propensity for womanising (I remember being shown a published account as long ago as 2002 of his alleged conduct just before his Consecration).

"I have been careful not to make sexual morality a priority". This is rather as if an errant banker were to say "At least I am not a hypocrite: I have never made public statements about the importance of financial probity." And, surely, a Bishop's sacred duties do include making appropriate statements, when necessary, about the many various areas of morality, including sexual morality?

"I don't think it got in the way of my job. I don't think people will say I have been a bad bishop". This gets to the heart of the question. It is apparently Bishop Conry's view that being a Bishop is 'a job'; that it is to do with the efficient performance of certain external actions and has no relationship to striving, with the help of God's grace, to conform ones own life to the person of Jesus Christ and to the imperatives of His Gospel.

Even the greatest admirers of S John Paul II sometimes concede that he did fail to get a grip upon the appointment of Bishops in the Catholic Church, so that local hierarchies became self-perpetuating oligarchies. It would not be difficult to incorporate l'affaire Conry into such a narrative. Res scrutanda est usque ad radices.

And it is sometimes suggested that a de facto and totally unintended result of Vatican II was a loss in many quarters of any dread of Sin and of any consciousness of the absolute need for Grace. Bishop Conry, if his words do truly manifest the man, would be a perfect illustration of that.

A symbol ... indeed, a victim ... of his times? A weak and self-obsessed man, poorly formed at seminary; a product of that facile anthropological optimism which characterised the Church in and after the 1960s; a man who deserves our prayerful sympathy rather than a judgement which it is most certainly not ours to pass?

May God sanctify his dearly beloved child Kieran, and all of us, miserable sinners, et, dimissis peccatis nostris, transform us all ever more closely into the likeness of the Incarnate Word.


Nicolas Bellord said...

Absolutely right! I would add two points:

1. By saying that adultery is not illegal I presume he meant that it is not a criminal offence. However it is "unlawful" in English law.

2. As to not involving minors what about the report that there were children of the marriage he interfered with? It is so easy to forget the damage done to children by divorce.

Deacon Augustine said...

I think it is important for everybody in the Church to be aware that our "Safeguarding" guidelines apply not only to minors, but also to vulnerable adults.

A woman in distress because of marital difficulties is in a similar vulnerable situation with her priest/bishop as is a patient with their GP. It is notable that the GMC have strict rules about striking off doctors who abuse the doctor/patient relationship. I believe that many who work in the Church's Safeguarding commissions take the view that we should have a similar policy for clergy who abuse their position to take advantage of the vulnerable.

If I were Fr. Conry, I would not at present be blabbing my mouth off about my desires to continue "in the job". It would be sensible to stop courting publicity completely.