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Should We Forgive Bishop Conroy?

Forgiveness may be offered, but for it to activate it has to be asked for. It takes two to forgive. You may wish to forgive someone, but unless they acknowledge what they’ve done and sincerely request forgiveness it remains a one way street.

We therefore ask what has Bishop Conroy asked us to forgive exactly? What is interesting about this case is the former bishop’s attitude to the whole matter. In this particular situation the more we know the more smelly it gets. That a bishop or priest has a problem in the trouser department is nothing new, but we expect genuine repentance and sorrow at the sin. What we find is a suspected cover up and the bishop’s comments coming across as flippant and arrogant.

If the rumors about Bishop Conry were circulating for so long shouldn’t they have been investigated? When his name came up for appointment as bishop wasn’t there someone somewhere who should have waved the “caution” card? One doesn’t want to put too much stock in rumors, but if there are enough of them, without going on a witch hunt shouldn’t someone have investigated? From what I know of the “magic circle” and English society it would have been “Raise carpet. Sweep Trash Under. Replace Carpet. Ignore Smell.”

Kieran Conry said he was sorry for the “shame he brought on the diocese” and that he had “broken his vows”. He also said  that he “didn’t dwell on sexual morality” in his sermons and he didn’t think he was a bad bishop because of what he did. What kind of double think is that? All it indicates is that he knew he was flagrantly breaking his vows and flaunting church discipline. Because he didn’t preach on sexual matters was he giving himself and all his people a pass on that area of Catholic life and teaching? He didn’t think this made him a bad bishop? Am I the only one to think that this sounds arrogant and self deluded in the extreme?

What if we transfer this attitude to a different area of morality and suppose that the bishop was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Let’s say he was siphoning off diocesan funds for personal matters like the notorious Archbishop Weakland. If he was caught embezzling funds would he get away with saying, “I never preached much about financial matters and I don’t think this makes me a bad bishop.”? I don’t think so.

Conry  went on to put up his hand and say, “Yup. I did wrong. I’m sorry about that. I’m sorry I let you down.” Combined with his other statement this sounds more like, “Hey guys. It looks like the tabloids have got the story. You caught me. My bad. I’m out. See ya.” In other words, no real repentance and not so much “I’m sorry” but “I’m sorry I got caught.” What we did not hear was Bishop Conry’s full affirmation of the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage and sexual morality. What he did not say was, “The Church’s teaching is beautiful, good and true, but I failed to live up to this teaching. It was a sin. I have not only broken my vows, but I have broken a marriage, broken a sacrament, broken the lives of two children and wounded the faith and hope of Catholics around the world. Instead it was just “I broke my vows” not “What I did was sinful and I repent.”

Here is the most interesting and disturbing part of the affair: Bishop Conry doesn’t say that sexual relations outside of marriage are wrong. He doesn’t say that adultery is wrong. Did he not consider his actions to actually be wrong or did he just regret getting caught and was just sorry that he “broke his vows”? I don’t wish to rub the poor man’s nose in it, but it does make one think, and makes one ask, “How can we forgive something that the person has not acknowledged as sinful?” How can I say, “I forgive you for running over my cat” unless you say, “I’m really sorry. I ran over your cat.”?

If a priest is having an affair with a woman or a series of women over the years, and he has no qualms about becoming a bishop then one must conclude that he has justified this action in his own mind. He’s good with it. How do liberal priests do this? As part of my research for my book on married priests I have discovered that they do this in various ways. One way is that they interpret the vow of celibacy as “I will never get married.” Stories abound of priests who are sexually active but still claim they are keeping their vow of celibacy. It reminds me of the sorority girl who, after she had sex with numerous boys at a frat party, said “I’m still a virgin because I was drunk when it happened.” Others keep a mistress and condone it because they “need companionship” and if they tumble into bed they jut go to confession.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware of the difficulties our celibate priests experience and I’m very sympathetic. Sexual morality is difficult for everyone and few there be who do not stumble, and when we stumble going to confession is the right thing to do. What disturbs me, however, is when anyone justifies the sin, pretends it is not a sin and skirts the issue. I am not saying Bishop Conroy does this because I do not have all the facts, and one should always give the benefit of the doubt. However, his lack of naming sin and repenting publicly for a public sin does have the whiff of liberal watered down Christianity– a Christianity without a cross and forgiveness without repentance.

Folks have stepped up and reminded us of the need to forgive and be merciful and I agree, but how can we do that if the person hasn’t asked for forgiveness?

Furthermore, a person who is truly penitent wishes to make restitution. Should we not therefore also ask what happens next?

Does Bishop Conroy now glide off into retirement into a nice home provided by the diocese? Will he do so with one of his women? Will he have a decent pension? Will he be rehabilitated and eased back into a churchy job somewhere? Will anyone attempt to put the broken marriage back together? Bishop Conroy says to the press, “I feel liberated. I now have peace. I have a sense of relief.” So its all about you dear bishop and how you’re coping with this crisis. Has there been any comment on the real victims here: the cuckolded husband, the children of the now broken home?

Yes, we forgive Bishop Conroy, but part of charity is clarity, and we need to point out what is still missing in this story.