EVERYONE KNEW THE BISHOP HAD A WIFE
How the Church covered up its Casanova bishop for 12 years: The Catholic Bishop of Brighton has resigned after two affairs with parishioners and now he's linked to a THIRD
- Kieran Conry, 63, has resigned after more than 13 years as bishop
- One of the women he had an affair with was a married mother-of-two
- He admitted that he had been 'unfaithful to his promises' as a priest
- There are growing calls for a Papal inquiry into who within the Church knew
Scandal: Conry with the married mother-of-two this summer. Her identity has been obscured for legal reasons
By all accounts, the ordination of Kieran Conry was a suitably dignified and solemn affair. Hundreds of worshippers filled the vast neo-Gothic spaces of Arundel Cathedral in West Sussex to watch him be installed as their new Roman Catholic bishop in June 2001.
But even as the car mechanic’s son from Coventry lay prostrate on the Cathedral’s stone floor to show his humility before God in the historic ceremony, rumours were circulating about his suitability for the weighty role ahead of him.
This week, after more than 13 years as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, 63-year-old Conry dramatically resigned after revelations of love affairs with two parishioners — one of them a 43-year-old married mother-of-two — admitting that he had been ‘unfaithful to his promises’ as a priest.
But his insistence that the Catholic Church knew nothing about his affairs has been met with a chorus of disbelief — and not just from the husband of one of the women.
The husband is now consulting lawyers after claiming to have proof that the Catholic authorities did know about Conry’s behaviour, and simply chose to turn a blind eye to it.
There are growing calls from leading Catholics for a Papal inquiry into who within the Church knew what, and when.
As Conry’s resignation threatens to plunge the Church into yet another scandal, Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal Archbishop Vincent Nichols, has refused to comment on accusations of yet another cover-up.
But an investigation by the Mail reveals firm evidence that fears about Conry’s celibacy were indeed being raised even before he became a bishop in 2001, and suggests the existence of a third woman in his life.
I have discovered that the claims circulating about Conry were then printed in a Catholic publication — an influential international monthly magazine sent to every Catholic diocese, or district, in Britain, as well as to the Pope himself in Rome — as long as 12 years ago.
The January 2002 edition of Christian Order, which is published in Britain, quoted an unnamed priest saying: ‘Kieran was often seen out and about with his female friend. Everyone knew about it.’
The article went on to say: ‘Does it not leave the gravest questions ... especially when shortly before his episcopal consecration Mass [to ordain him as bishop] he is seen in Italy strolling hand in hand and enjoying leisurely outings with his lady friend at Palazzola, the residence on Lake Albano belonging to the English College [a seminary for priests].’
The piece continued: ‘Word quickly spread and it is said that Church authorities may have queried Mgr [Monsignor] Conry about the matter,’ but adds, ‘the Palazzola coup de grace did not even delay his elevation by a single day.’
The priest who reported Conry is now said to be a bishop. He was apparently told that since the Vatican’s ‘Congregation for Bishops’ — the body that oversees the selection of candidates — was happy with Conry’s appointment, nothing could be done.
Dramatic: This week, after more than 13 years as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, 63-year-old Conry, pictured in 2001, resigned after revelations of love affairs with two parishioners
While I cannot verify the truth of these allegations about events in Italy — which are not related to Conry’s more recent affairs — his detractors say it is simply impossible that not one bishop or senior Catholic cleric read the article.
It was repeated, word for word, in another publication, Catholic Truth Scotland, in October last year, under the headline ‘Bishop Conry, Conscience, Contraception and Keeping Company’.
One priest, speaking to me on condition of anonymity, says: ‘The Catholic world is not a big world in this country. If it makes it into print the bishops must have known about his affairs, and for at least 12 years.
‘The evidence is there to blow that claim [that senior members of the Catholic Church were not aware of his behaviour] out of the water.’
Graham Moorhouse, chairman of a group that campaigns to uphold traditional Catholic beliefs, says Britain’s leading Catholic clerics ‘must have known what was going on because ten years ago every curate in the diocese was making jokes about “the bishop’s wife”. They were burying their heads in the sand.’
Daphne McLeod, a former chair of the same group, told me that she was one of several people who wrote to the Pope’s official representative in Britain in 2001, voicing fears about Conry.
‘I wrote before he was consecrated [as a bishop], but after his appointment had been announced, because there was a lot of talk about his relationship with a woman,’ she said.
‘I thought the consecration shouldn’t go ahead until it had been sorted out. I didn’t get a reply, so I don’t know what happened or if it was investigated.
‘Checks should have been made. Now we’ve got this scandal instead. Most of our bishops are wonderful. It’s very sad.’
This week, author and religious commentator Damian Thompson also waded into the row, writing in a blog for The Spectator magazine: ‘I don’t know how many Mrs Conrys there have been over the years: the rumours date back decades. But I have it on good authority that (a) several English bishops, (b) a former papal envoy to Britain, and (c) the Congregation for Bishops in Rome were concerned about the stories.’
All of this will no doubt give extra ammunition to the embittered husband of the latest woman — the married mother — to feature in Conry’s life.
Claiming that Conry’s behaviour helped to destroy his marriage and break up his family, he is in discussions with lawyers about possible legal action.
While the woman cannot be named for legal reasons, I can disclose that she is a teacher at a Catholic school whose husband used to work in finance.
Affair: The woman stayed over at the Bishop’s stunning official residence, High Oaks, in Pease Pottage, West Sussex, and accompanied Conry to the ballet, the British Museum and a Matisse exhibition in London
It is understood that the husband was baptised into the Catholic Church at a service at Arundel Cathedral presided over by Conry himself.
His wife and children also joined the Bishop’s annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, the religious shrine in south-west France.
The Lourdes visit is a popular feature on the diocesan calendar and is attended each year by hundreds of parishioners from across Sussex and Surrey. As well as including prayer and contemplation, in the past the trips were known for having a lively social side, with fancy dress parties and drinks at the several hotels occupied by Bishop Conry’s group during the trip.
A photograph seen by the Mail shows Conry, who helped to train counsellors for the Catholic Marriage Care organisation, with his arm around the shoulders of the married woman in question.
It is believed that the relationship between Conry and the slim, blonde-haired woman then blossomed after her 17-year marriage hit a crisis last year.
The husband later became aware of love letters handwritten by Conry to his wife. One of them, dated from last month and signed ‘Your K xxxxxx’, reads: ‘It’s alright to say that [your husband] did bad things, but you knew that he didn’t love you. You know (I hope) that I did. And I did, and do.’ The husband also claims that the pair exchanged dozens of text messages.
Although the love letters do not disclose a sexual relationship, it is known that the affair lasted more than a year.
The woman stayed over at the Bishop’s stunning official residence, High Oaks, in Pease Pottage, West Sussex, and accompanied Conry to the ballet, the British Museum and a Matisse exhibition in London.
The husband has filed for divorce. According to his solicitor, Clare Kirby: ‘My client is considering pursuing a possible High Court action against the Catholic Church because they’ve known for years that the bishop has been having affairs, and if they’d taken action he almost certainly would not have lost his marriage, and his children would not be having to be brought up in a broken family.’
The grounds of any case are not yet clear, as it is ‘in its infancy’.
Last weekend, Kieran Conry insisted he was resigning not because of his relationship with the married mother but because of an earlier affair, a relationship from six years ago with another parishioner, who, I understand, also joined him on one of his Lourdes pilgrimages.
He openly apologised for his actions, preparing a statement to be read in churches across the Arundel and Brighton diocese, which said: ‘I want to apologise for the shame that I have brought on the diocese and the Church.’
But further comments he made to this newspaper have fanned the flames of controversy among traditional Catholics, after he said he was ‘relieved’ that the affair had finally come out.
He added: ‘I have been very careful not to make sexual morality a priority [in his sermons]. 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.’
Speaking to me this week, the leading Catholic blogger and author for the Catholic Truth Society, Reverend Deacon Nick Donnelly, said: ‘I was sad to see him look at it that way. He’s acting like a chief executive of a corporation, as if his private life was separate from his public role. That’s not my experience of how priests see their lives.’
Concerns: An investigation reveals firm evidence that fears about Conry’s celibacy were indeed being raised even before he installed as bishop in 2001 at Arundel Cathedral in West Sussex, above. File picture
Other critics argue that Conry’s apology, like his affair, casts a whole new light on some of the more controversial views he espoused as bishop.
In September last year he found himself at odds with other bishops when he said that Catholics should follow their consciences regarding the use of contraception — which is outlawed by church teachings.
‘I think there are more important issues,’ he said at the time.
Attitudes towards Conry, long regarded as a liberalising influence, have been polarised ever since his consecration, with some seeing his often progressive views as a saving grace, while others considered him a threat to the church.
His resignation has also reignited the debate about whether Catholic priests should be allowed to marry, as Anglican vicars are. This week, Conry should have been on a religious retreat at Merville in Normandy, praying and reading the Bible.
Ironically, he was due to return today for a marriage anniversary Mass at the Church of St Joan of Arc in Farnham, Surrey, a usually joyous service held to celebrate the longevity of several of his parishioners’ enduring marriages. Instead, he has been left to contemplate a career in tatters.
This week he said he would ‘take some time to consider my future’, adding: ‘I ask for your prayers and forgiveness.’ And there are those who are prepared to forgive him. Mike Thoms, director of the Lourdes pilgrimage for Arundel and Brighton, says: ‘There is a tremendous sense of sadness across the diocese. He was much loved by people.
‘He was weak, and we will be praying that he can be forgiven.’
Forgiveness of sins, of course, exists at the heart of all Christian teaching. Yet it remains to be seen whether the husband Kieran Conry wronged will be quite so accommodating.
THE CATHOLIC HERALD:
THE CATHOLIC HERALD:
The Conry affair has exposed a crisis in Church governance – over to you, Francis
THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
"They pretend to resemble the Apostles, and they are filthy, ignorant, impudent vagabonds…[T]hey quarrel with each other and curse each other. They pretend to poverty, but they steal into honest men's houses and pollute them, and wasps as they are, no one dares refuse them admittance for fear of their stings." --Erasmus in Moria.