Celibacy and the Priesthood.

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I was saddened recently to hear the extremely disturbing news of a priest who has recently decided to leave the priesthood to take up with an 18 year old girl. I’m not sure when the girl’s 18th birthday was, but I do know this is not a decision that would have happened over night. I understand he began thinking of leaving several months ago. How long were they involved before he decided to officially leave the priesthood? When did she turn 18?

It does raise the alarm bells for some extremely serious safeguarding issues that I very strongly hope are being fully investigated by his Bishop. God only knows what her parents are going through right now.

My hope is that he has the best intentions for this girl and has decided to do the right thing by her and marry her. Perhaps the obvious age gap will not cause a problem? Who am I to judge? After all she is an adult now – just, and legally able to make her own decisions. But then again, at 18, I was extremely naïve and vulnerable and an older man did take advantage of me.

I hope that his Fatherly background will ground them both solidly in the understanding of God’s plan for marriage and family and they will be able to live out this extremely important vocation for the rest of their lives. I hope he is making chastity a priority right now. But then again – I hear he is a supporter of gay marriage, and other equally false theological notions.

Somehow, his dodgy theology and his dodgy actions seem to complement each other perfectly. The man needs prayers. And so does that 18 year old kid.

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I’ve had long discussions recently regarding priestly celibacy. Personally I think it is a difficult argument to make when I see married Anglican convert priests often doing a better job than some of the celibate priests I know. These men are living proof that the duality of vocations is possible, and many of them describe the two vocations as complimenting each other rather than opposing:

“I am a Catholic (Anglican convert) priest, with lots of children, and a long happy marriage. My parish has 1,000 parishioners on a Sunday who appear very happy and cared for. I work extremely hard at both vocations and I understand the celibacy discipline. But my vocations aren’t in competition but are complimentary to the other. I not less committed to either. Both have sacramental graces and responsibilities attached to them.

I have a wife who is 100% behind me and children who are gracious in sharing me. It’s all of grace and I claim no power in it. I have to rely fully on God and listen to my wife, children and parishioners. It’s not always easy but when is either marriage or priesthood easy? It’s grace.”

However the beauty and incredible witness of celibacy are not to be overlooked:

“Besides all the practical benefits of a celibate priestly class there’s something even more important. The world is obsessed with sex and its advertisement, for the world it is the be all and end all. Celibacy shows the radical nature of the Faith, without it, not just the priesthood, but the whole faith would become something bland. It would be seen as just another part of life, when it is supposed to be life.

There’s also the added advantage of dealing with people that are having difficulties in relationships e.g., I was talking to a man suffering from SSA the other day and was able to talk to him about the heroic virtues without looking two faced. In other words, “We priests and religious can live life without sex or emotional relationships that involve intimacy and God will give you the grace to do it too!” It would be a very different case if I was married with four children.”

The fact that the other rites within the Catholic Church successfully have married priests and the fact that our Roman rite has not always required celibacy also makes the argument for celibacy more difficult. It would be naïve to think that the celibacy requirement did not have a lot to do with keeping money within the church rather than it going to widows of priests – but I’m sure the Roman Church would never be so materialistic, would it?

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I guess the best explanation I can understand is that a priest is called to love all equally with everything he can give, and in this way he is required to forgo exclusive relationships. I guess several decades ago when priests lived in community this would be good. The community would be the ‘family’ of the priest and stop him from having to endure isolation and all the temptations that come with that. But nowadays priests are more and more living alone. I’m not sure this is a good thing. Jesus always sent the disciples out in pairs, He didn’t expect anyone to go it alone.

And then there are the wonderful ex-priests I know who left to get married. Given the chance I know they would still be excellent priests today. Their decision to leave must have been agonising.

There is also the issue of older Deacons whose families have grown up and left home. They are already successfully dedicating themselves to their parishes. Would it not be reasonable for them to become Fr’s if they felt the calling? I know of one such deacon who did just this after his wife died. His adult children support him totally. But this situation is of course completely different to that of a young man with young children.

The jury is out for me on the issue of priestly celibacy. I can see major benefits and disadvantages to both states. And after all, it is a discipline not a doctrinal issue which means that it can be changed at any time. But I must say that I hold the deepest respect for those of you who are celibate priests, and who have given everything to serve God’s church. I pray for you everyday.

I must also make it crystal clear – in my eyes, an adult male leaving the priesthood to be with an 18 year old kid has very little to do with the issue of celibacy, and much more to do with the issue of sexual abuse.

Was Bishop Kieran Conry an Atheist?

Kieran Conry at a fancy dress party in Lourdes.

Kieran Conry at a fancy dress party in Lourdes.

It has struck me quite profoundly that since the revelations of Kieran Conry’s numerous affairs have come to light, we have heard lots from him but have not once heard him mention Christ. In his statement he says:

“I am sorry to confess that, going back some years, I have been unfaithful to my promises as a Catholic priest. I would like to reassure you that my actions were not illegal and did not involve minors…. I want to apologise first of all to the individuals hurt by my actions and then to all of those inside and outside the diocese who will be shocked, hurt and saddened to hear this. I am sorry for the shame that I have brought on the diocese and the Church and I ask for your prayers and forgiveness.”

He then went on to tell the Daily Mail:

“It has been difficult keeping the secret. In some respects I feel very calm. It is liberating. It is a relief. 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. But I can’t defend myself. I did wrong. Full stop.”

Why no mention of Christ? After all, a Bishop is the earthly representative of Christ for his particular diocese. Surely first and foremost, any public apology should have been made to Christ, begging His forgiveness?

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“…she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair…”

That is assuming of course that he feels that this is necessary. Kieran Conry has been critical of going to confession regularly, saying that, in his experience, people would always come back saying the same things week after week, suggesting that no interior conversion or repentance was actually taking place. In a May 2009 pastoral letter, he urged a more adult approach to the sacrament of reconciliation:

“Go to the priest and talk about these things, the way in which your relationship with God might have grown stale. Because sin is ultimately something that damages our relationship with God. It is not just breaking the rules.”

But what exactly was Kieran Conry’s relationship with Christ?

All Catholic priests are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day. Canon 904 tells us that daily celebration of the Mass is earnestly recommended (but not required) for priests. Daily examination of conscience, frequent confession and silent meditation are also highly recommended.

But here’s the problem…

How could it have been possible for Kieran Conry to do the above on a daily basis while he was carrying on with his various girlfriends?

If he made a one off ‘mistake’ with a woman, but decided never to see her again, felt remorse and went to confession, then one could understand. Nobody is perfect. But this was not a one off event. It was years of constant deception and lies. Years of repeatedly disgracing himself in the sight of Christ. No wonder he didn’t believe in frequent confession!

Now he has admitted that he knew what he was doing was wrong. And he has apologised to those involved and to the church, but something tells me he was not really sorry. The Daily Mail revealed that they had confronted Conry about his affair with Olivia Hodgkinson 4 months before the story broke a few weeks ago. Yet still he decided to resign only hours before the story went to print, and there was no way out for him. In my opinion he wasn’t truly sorry.

He was sorry he got found out, and he was sorry that he lost his job, and i’m sure he was sorry that the affair had to end. But if he was a man of honour, he would have done the right thing and resigned years ago and married (one of) the women he was carrying on with.

To continue in his role as Priest and Bishop, he must have been either going to confession constantly to make sure his relationship with Christ was repaired and whole once more, or he wasn’t. If he wasn’t, then there are only three reasons why:

1. He was not aware that what he was doing was wrong.

2. He was not concerned that he was committing a mortal sin.

3. He doesn’t believe in God.

How could it be possible for this man to turn to face God in prayer 7 times a day without falling on his knees and begging for mercy? How could it be possible for him to hold up Christ in the Eucharist knowing where his hands had been the night before? Not just once, but over and over again for years and years. The arrogance is astounding.

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The only conclusion I can come to is that Kieran Conry was an Atheist. He had no relationship with Christ. And if by any scrap of possibility he did, it was on his own terms. This man was a Bishop – terrifying isn’t it?

Sources:

http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/Home/News/Bishop-Resigns

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2772987/I-m-glad-secret-says-affair-shame-bishop-Roman-Catholic-priest-talks-feeling-liberated-church-chiefs-accused-knowing-years.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kieran_Conry#Confession

http://canonlawmadeeasy.com/2009/01/08/do-priests-have-to-say-mass-every-day/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2780926/Wrath-husband-cuckolded-bishop-STILL-denies-affair.html