Kieran Conry, St Michael and ‘Acceptable Evil’

The resignation of Bishop Kieran Conry and its impact on the priests and people of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton is being picked over by the media. There are those who delight in the idea of sexual shananigans involving a bishop — a Catholic bishop at that! — and are whooping with glee at the prospect of salacious ‘revelations’ in the press and online. 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 and expressing support for Bishop Kieran as he faces not only private humiliation but public shame over his actions. Some, probably the majority, simply feel sad, sensing both the personal tragedy and the tragedy for the diocese.  Inevitably, there is a feeling of betrayal. When clergy in particular are found to have deceived others, people naturally ask whether anyone actually believes what they profess to believe. Is it all moonshine as far as they are concerned? What few within the Church seem to have grasped, however, is that for many people in Britain today, it is all a typhoon in a teacup. For them, the  Church’s teaching is out of step with modern sexual mores. Kieran Conry did no more and no less than lots of other men in this country. End of story (almost).

I think we need to be clear about three things. First, by his own admission, Bishop Kieran seems to have been guilty of fornication, if not adultery; and this breaking of his promise of celibacy and the Church’s rules about sexual behaviour was something that went on for years. Whatever society thinks about it, the Church’s understanding of such behaviour is that it is wrong, sinful. There is no such thing as ‘acceptable evil’. Second, his actions have hurt others as well as himself — the women involved, their families, the priests and people of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton and the wider Church. There will be a price to pay, and it will be far from painless. Third, and just as important, God’s grace is open to us all. We are not called to judge the state of Bishop Keieran’s soul and certainly ought not to revile him. Who among us has a conscience so spotless we can condemn another? We must forgive whatever there is to forgive, pray for his conversion (and remember, confession of wrong is a first step in that direction) and continue to try to live godly lives ourselves as well as we can. That is where St Michael the Archangel, whose feast we keep today, comes in. He is the great protector saint whose aid we invoke against evil in all its most seductive forms.

Those who think of angels as charming little putti, running riot over Baroque altarpieces and ceilings, have clearly never stopped to consider the terrifying aspect of angels in the Bible. They are mighty spirits, messengers of God, with Michael the chief of them. The old Catholic prayer asking his intercession is not ‘quaint’ or ‘outmoded’ any more than evil itself is quaint or outmoded. Evil is deceptive and leads even the best of us astray. The sad story of Bishop Kieran is a reminder to us all that ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I.’ I think there are good reasons for making the prayer our own and praying it whenever we face situations that place us in moral, physical, or spiritual danger — remembering always that pride, the idea that we can cope without help, is one of the biggest sins of all.

St Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.


21 thoughts on “Kieran Conry, St Michael and ‘Acceptable Evil’”

  1. Amen, Sister to “There, but for the grace of God go I”. Unfortunately, there are all too many who are just itching to cast the first stone and some of these fail to see the splinter in their own eye.

  2. I know almost nothing about Bishop Kieran but felt very sad indeed when the news broke. Online comments in various ways online fora show that the Catholic Church is a focus for hatred for many people who will seize on any opportunity to reinforce their prejudices. We need to pray for our church. We are all sinners and, as happens when a member of a family falls from grace in a public way, we all feel the repercussions of the more spectacular transgressions of our brothers and sisters.

  3. I am a practising, cradle, Catholic and this cover up of a situation is what I find hardest to understand.
    A family has been ruptured by a man who took vows of celibacy.
    I know many good priests who left when they fell in love. It’s another example of hyprocisy and all those who knew about it should hang their heads in shame.
    I know I should not judge but I am not a bishop charged with directing Christ’s flock.
    I have prayed for all involved, especially the children.

    • Totally agree, Connie. Its the lack of integrity that is the sorriest part of this story, not only from Kieran but those around him who covered for him too. Many of us wrestle with whether we can fulfil our vows or not and if we can’t we man up, say so, and accept the sad consequences, as do those around us. To “confess” on the day a journalist was breaking the story and not before smacks of yet more secrecy and cover up within our church. The truth will out, always, so better to be honest and stand bravely as a sinner or one challenged. Then lots of encouragement, support and sympathy may well be offered, rather than scorn, disgust and disgrace.

  4. Whatever Bishop Kieran has done wrong, I am sure he is in need of prayers. So I will pray for healing to the situation and for God’s forgiveness for Bishop Kieran.

  5. Thank you for your comments, and for the promise of prayers. There are many layers to this. It is true that some outside the Church are using it as a way of attacking her, but there are also those within who are using it in ways that strike me as fundamentally irreligious. Of course we should be concerned about anything that is wrong or sinful or needs changing; but there is a zeal which is not righteous and does the devil’s work for him. I’ve already had a couple of emails this morning that I’d put into that category.

    • Well said. There are some bloggers who claim to represent the true church, and to protect it, who are so full of faith that they seem to leave no room for hope or charity. I have been RC all my life, and love the church, but these people don’t speak for me.
      Living in the A&B diocese, and knowing a number of people who know +Kieran, it is clear that he has been a good pastor. I wish him well, and also the diocese, hoping we get another good, new bishop soon.

    • “…there are also those within who are using it in ways that strike me as fundamentally irreligious. Of course we should be concerned about anything that is wrong or sinful or needs changing; but there is a zeal which is not righteous and does the devil’s work for him. ”

      Cold and creepy, Sister. I’ve been hearing this “defence” of the rampant level of sexual offending on the part of Catholic clergy for the past twenty years—at least Bp. Conry’s wrongdoing (and his Clintonesque apologia therefor), didn’t involve rape, for which I suppose we must be thankful—and frankly, I’m getting sick unto death of seeing it endlessly trotted out by people who have never so much as lifted a finger, far less their voices, on behalf of the victims.
      Whatever our Church can be accused of, it is not excessive “zeal”—or any at all—in keeping its clergymen who have made a mockery of their vows of chastity in check, or in doing the smallest thing on behalf of those who have been grievously injured by them that the civil authorities didn’t make them do.
      If you’re not willing yourself to do anything to help, as you’re clearly not, stop maligning them further. They’ve been hurt enough, and don’t deserve this sort of insult from you.

      • The sentence you quote was an allusion to what I saw in my Twitterstream and in some Catholic blogs just after Kieran Conry’s announcement: a sustained campaign against the bishops of England and Wales, not merely asking what they knew and when (a perfectly legitimate and necessary question) but asserting as fact, without supporting evidence, that the bishops knew about and connived at his behaviour (which is a serious slur on their good name). I regard that as bad zeal (cf RB 72). As regards my own record on sexual abuse, may I suggest you have a look back on this blog and its predecessor, Colophon. You will find that I have spoken out clearly and forthrightly on the subject. As to the insults you address to me personally, no comment.

  6. What upsets me more than anything when situations such as this arise, is how Catholics as well as others are so ready to assume they know the facts behind the stories. The popular press will, of course, circulate all sorts of things such as saying the hierarchy knew what was going on all along, but do we have to believe it? I grieve over the fact that it seems we want to believe the worst.

  7. Thank you for a great blog. Since finding out about its origins I say St Michael’s prayer after every Mass and I do wish it could be said by all after every Mass as was the request of Pope Leo XIII and also Pope Saint John Paul II. It is a powerful and important prayer we should all be encouraged to use more. May we all be blessed by St Michael and the Archangels today.

  8. “… there, but for the grace of God, go I.” Dear mother Church and all her members may profitably reflect on this truth this morning, and however weary we may feel, and saddened, of yet another public display of the sins of a brother, may we give thanks to a merciful God that our own waywardness is not put on such open display. I join in heartfelt prayer.

  9. My concern is given this relationship has been going on for years is the bishop “sorry” simply because he has been caught? he clearly has not examined his concsceince for some time.

  10. This business has thrown up much debate regarding celibacy. Whilst Holy Mother Church demands celibacy within certain vocations either to religious life or the priesthood, it is, at the end of the day a personal decision by the person entering such a life who wishes to give, freely and willingly the most precious of gifts – their commitment to a chaste life – as a gift to God.
    It should perhaps be looked upon as a sacred personal offering
    to which the Church consents when embarking either towards the priesthood or religious life.
    Whilst not wishing to judge (after all who am I?) I find it hard to comprehend how someone living such a life but having these desires continues in conscience.

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