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.
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
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.
I am not bothered that he had a wife. Perhaps its easier to get away with that on mainland UK. Affairs? Same criteria as anybody else. What annoys me is that I believe he thought he could hide beneath a pointy hat and expect his ordained footsoldiers to tow the line. Celibacy is a bit like eating meat on Friday. While useful it needs to be downgraded. My Mother was once refused absolution as a young girl for eating meat on Friday!!!!!!!! SeanReplyDelete
Sean, clean your act upba get away from Buckley. You are much better. Good men gave him time and saw through him. Come home Sean. Fellow loftus man.Delete
Its not about who is for Buckley or who is for Loftus. Its about who is for Jesus !!!Delete
What good men do you mean?Delete
The good men of D&C Fr. R! Clergy, people and Bishop's. Amazing that I needed bto spell that out!Delete
Can you name those "good men and bishops of D&C"?
I have found they are a very mixed lot - the good, the bad, the ugly, the nasty, the randy etc.
Much like any family Fr. R. But you don't have to stay, the door is open! Or are you another Buckley?Delete
None of the above surprises me. Guess what; you don't need to go to Arundel & Brighton to find duplicity at work. D &C does cover ups with some expertise.
Our Bishop is ignoring many situations which are actively ongoing, in relation to priests, gay & straight within his own diocese.
At the risk of repeating myself, the "celibacy system" is completely broken. The problem is that those in authority cannot face this truth.
The day of "collapse" is fast approaching, and it would be far better if the church prepared for change rather than resisting it.
Priest of Down & Connor.
Priest of D&C,Delete
You have been giving your message for a long time now.
It is being greeted with the Great Silence
Has anyone else noticed that two press photos of Conry and lady friend are exactly the same photo, location background, stance etc, except in the Henry Nolan one she wears a blue skirt, while in the other it's a patterned one? Mysterious! We all know the press get up to all sorts of tricks to heighten intrigue, and readership! Makes you wonder what else is misrepresented.ReplyDelete
Having said that, it seems clear by now that Conry is simply another of the very many catholic priests who have found celibacy's requirements impossible to keep. What is more interesting is the implications of the duplicity of his elevated status as a bishop, and the extent of knowledge of this in the catholic hierarcy both before and after his consecration.
Seems like the lid has been opened and lots of worms are wriggling out.
The change of colour of the skirt was only in the first print editions after legal representation stated that it made the identity of the alleged female friend of Bishop Conry all too recognisable (it was quite a unique design). Following the identifying of the female by another media outlet this challenge was null and void, hence the original photo of the lady in the original skirt. But well spotted. DM LegalDelete
Thank you for that good perspective.
I am glad that you folk did not allow the expensive lawyers of the RC Church to intimidate you publishing the truth.
There can be more TRUTH in the media these days than in many pulpits.
PS: It was not the first skirt to make problems :-)
Oh Pat! Your wit! Nice one! T'was me who spotted the skirt.....but I always did have an eye for......!Delete
And thank you DM Legal for info. I'm less suspicious now.
I speak as a member of Bishop Kieran's Diocese, and can perhaps lend some balance to all of this. The Mail have been rabidly working this 'everybody knew' angle for some time now as have various bloggers, but it's a little thin.ReplyDelete
Were there rumours?
Yes. But very few people had heard them, and those that had dismissed them as being a bit silly. After all, there are always rumours. I was one of those who had heard the rumours. After careful reflection, I decided that they weren't reliable enough to act on, because they weren't. The vast, vast majority of people, though, were shocked and surprised and knew nothing at all. I have spoken privately to four priests since the resignation. One said that he had heard about the 'Christian Order' piece from 2002 and quickly dismissed it as rubbish (Christian Order is full of rubbish usually). The other three knew nothing whatsoever, and I do believe them.
You have to remember that this is actually not a particularly liberal diocese. We had a liberal Bishop, yes, but there are a great many priests and faithful here who are quite orthodox. People who, had they known the bishop had been unfaithful, would have done something about it.
Thank you for your interesting "inside" perspective. PatReplyDelete
Buckley, you make the ratziner look like a lamb. But in Christian terms that's poor. But as an atheist, well done.ReplyDelete
A certain party sending messages about you, are you in favour to them?ReplyDelete
Certain party? What does this mean? So, we can go about parish life and ministry to be told that our photo's care appearing on this blog! Are you in favour of us contributor?Delete
If you have nothing to fear why are you worried about your photo appearing anywhere?Delete
I think it would be very difficult for Church authorities to carry out an inquiry into the behavior of the former Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Kieran Conry, as he probably knows undisclosed facts about many others in the Church. I imagine this is the reason why he was able to conduct so many affairs with impunity over the years.ReplyDelete
Cardinal O’Brien allegedly pooved on many young men in his charge but the Church cannot also conduct a proper inquiry into this either as be probably knows all the other skeletons in the cupboard. This is his trump card.
Conry did not have a "wife" and using that description only serves to indicate the extent of the priesthoods unhealthy attitude towards womenReplyDelete