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Bishop Egan: Faithful ‘devastated’ by Bishop Conry’s resignation

Bishop Kieran Conry (Photo: Mazur)

The people of Arundel and Brighton are devastated by the loss of their bishop who they “admired and loved” the Bishop of Portsmouth has said.

In a message to the members of his diocese concerning Bishop Kieran Conry, who resigned as bishop of next door diocese Arundel and Brighton after admitting to being “unfaithful to (his) promises as a Catholic priest”, Bishop Philip Egan said that chastity often involves a struggle but it is “a virtue to which every member of the Body of Christ is called”.

In a message included in the diocesan weekly ‘e-news bulletin’, Bishop Egan said: “Whenever we find out, unexpectedly, that someone has fallen from grace, our first reaction should be to ask God to have mercy upon us too for our own sins. Indeed, having spoken with priests and people from Arundel and Brighton, devastated by the loss of a bishop they admired and loved, I can only suggest we pray earnestly for God’s mercy and healing, and the renewal of Gospel hope.”

He continued: “Chastity is a virtue to which every member of the Body of Christ is called. It often involves a struggle. This is why we need constantly to ask Jesus for his grace, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In Confession, we should be absolutely honest about our sins and candid about our weaknesses.”

Celibacy is a demanding vocation, said Bishop Egan – but “there is another promise that we priests and deacons take that is at least as demanding, if not more so. Indeed, in my experience as a Bishop, the most serious challenge we face is obedience.”

Obedience, he said, “is really problematic for many in today’s context, an era in which freedom is often taken to mean ‘freedom from’ and ‘doing what I want’. In fact, freedom is not the ability to do what I want to do but to do what I ought to do.”

In what might be seen as a direct criticism of his former neighbouring colleague, Bishop Egan said: “Obedience is a serious challenge. As disciples of Jesus, we must put Jesus first. We must overcome any latent narcissism and become ‘Other-centred’. We must give ourselves totally to Him in order to develop a vibrant, personal relationship with Him. After all, this is the Way to human happiness. Otherwise, fallen human nature being what it is, we will end up doing our own thing, and this will inevitably bring us into conflict not only with the teaching and authority of the Church, but also with what truth and conscience demand.”

It was alleged last month that a mother of two, allegedly stayed overnight at Bishop Conry’s home on at least three occasions. Her estranged husband wrote to Bishop Conry, the papal nuncio, the vicar general and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, but received no replies, according to the Daily Mail.

Bishop Conry has also faced criticism from others in the Church for saying that celibacy was not about sex but marriage. “When a priest makes a promise of celibacy, he promises to remain unmarried, that’s all. Then the ordinary rules of morality apply,” he said in the Sunday Times after his resignation. “But I’d like to make it clear I’m not calling for a change. I did wrong. Celibacy may be a tradition rather than an article of faith but the vast majority of priests are faithful to their promise, faithful to what the Church expects of them. And I have great respect and admiration for that.”

He also said earlier this month that he hoped he could remain a priest.

“I’ve never regretted being a priest. I’ve never felt unhappy, I’ve enjoyed it and tried to do whatever was asked of me. I’ve always gone where I’ve been sent and I hope to do the same again,” he said.