Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dealing with the fallout from Bishop Conry's resignation

It was with great sadness that I read the news on Sunday that Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton had resigned after revealing that he had been "unfaithful to his promises as a priest", admitting to two affairs. [1] [2] Given his support for ACTA and general tenure of his bishopric, I had little regard for his apparent vision for the Church but I am nonetheless sorry to see a soul brought so low in so public a manner. With great power comes great responsibility and Bishop Conry will be held all the more accountable for his sins because he has abused the trust placed in him by the parishioners with whom he had an affair, their families, the diocese of Arundel and Brighton and the universal church. The Body of Christ has been dealt a serious blow not just by the direct consequences of the sins of the those involved in the affairs but also by the ridicule and mockery the Church will garner from the publicity. Bishop Conry's priesthood and Faith may now stand before a precipice so we should all endeavour to remember him in our prayers, regardless of our opinion of his character, as we fervently remember those affected by his sins. Indeed, we have a great duty of care to those mistreated by one of our own. All Catholics are placed in a position of greater responsibility by the gift of their Faith and all human beings are called to repentance and forgiveness for our transgressions.

Unfortunately, some have reacted to his resignation with what can only be described as glee, revelling in his humiliation in a profoundly un-Christian manner. There are others who are "taking the opportunity to have a pot-shot at everything they regard as liberal and wrong in the Church, with dark mutterings about who knew what and when. Others again are calling for a change in the Church’s celibacy rules". Amidst the hyperbole, the Body of Christ is struck again as onlookers regard a Church imploding, rent asunder by internecine strife. Such events should not be used as fuel for brinkmanship, nor should they be used to score points against perceived opponents - this is not to say however than lessons cannot be learned from them.

I think Bishop Conry's statement regarding his resignation offers a number of topics for further discussion:

1) “In some respects I feel very calm. It is liberating. It is a relief.... I am sorry for the shame that I have brought on the diocese and the Church and I ask for your prayers and forgiveness.”

The first step in dealing with sin is admitting its existence, asking for forgiveness and seeking repentance. Sometimes we gather the courage to take that first step ourselves or sometime it is thrust upon us; regardless of how the opportunity presents itself, it is still an invitation to grace from God. I have often found myself praying for the grace to be able to refrain from a particular habitual sin only to have the temptation removed in an unexpected manner.

2) "I have been very careful not to make sexual morality a priority [in my sermons]"

One might suggest that this hints that Bishop Conry was more concerned by the charge of hypocrisy than the affairs themselves but this statement highlights what an impediment sin is to the office of teaching. As the Catechism suggests, Bishops "have as their first task to preach the Gospel of God to all men, in keeping with the Lord's command.... They are "heralds of faith..., authentic teachers" of the apostolic faith "endowed with the authority of Christ." [4] Sin is pernicious and its effects will not be limited to the faculty it initially impairs, it grows like a cancer, rotting the soul, curtailing the spiritual life and numbing our capacity for virtue. 

3) "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."

To be a Bishop is to accept a vocation, a calling from God, and to treat it as anything less would be a terrible disservice. It is an awesome responsibility as Bishops, like all priests, receive "the mission and faculty ('the sacred power') to act in persona Christi Capitis" [5] from Christ himself. All vocations be they to marriage, the priesthood, the diaconate, religious life  or any other state rely on the wellspring of grace for nourishment - if they are not treated as such they will wither an die.

Today is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael - let us pray for protection against all temptation to evil, for the grace to submit to God's will for us and for healing wherever it is needed.

O Lord, the angels' sheer delight,
Their life reflects your splendour bright,
As we today their praise declare,
May we their joy forever share.

Saint Michael, be our refuge here,
Preserve us from all useless fear;
Through you may God his peace bestow
On all the nations here below.

Saint Gabriel, be with us this day,
Reveal God will to us, we pray;
As Mary once did answer you,
May our response be form and true.

Saint Raphael, heal our sinful heart,
May God his grace to us impart,
And may you guide us on the way
That we may never go astray. Amen.

[1] http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2014/09/27/english-bishop-announces-shock-resignation/
[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2772203/Bishop-affair-married-parishioner-quits-shame-ANOTHER-romance-Bishop-Arundel-admits-relationship-broke-clerical-vows.html
[3] http://www.ibenedictines.org/2014/09/29/kieran-conry-st-michael-and-acceptable-evil/
[4] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p4.htm#888
[5] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p4.htm#875

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