Another bishop falls, by his own hand

Having just hours ago posted about the deposing of an ostensibly orthodox and upright bishop in Paraguay who sadly lacked good judgment when perhaps it mattered most, news has come through that an ostensibly liberal bishop much closer to home has resigned due to his failure to keep the priestly vows.

Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton this afternoon released this statement:

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.

As a result, however, I have decided to offer my resignation as bishop with immediate effect and will now take some time to consider my future.

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.

There will be no further comment.

It is a sad day for the Church in England, and as sad a day for Bishop Conry whose career has now come to a crashing halt in such public fashion. We can only pray that as he considers his future he will make sound decisions that are for his own spiritual good and the good of the Church. Cardinal Nicholas commented that this affair “makes clear that we are always a Church of sinners called to repentance and conversion and in need of God’s mercy.” Repentance and conversion are indeed the order of the day for Bishop Conry; may he embrace this path and make his amends, at least with God.

Bishop Kieran Conry

Bishop Kieran Conry

Not surprisingly, the demise of an outspokenly liberal bishop has not been without some degree of satisfaction in some quarters. More significantly, some are asking questions that we can safely expect to assume some prominence in the next few days and weeks of fallout. Some are obvious enough, so we may as well prepare for them. Conry’s infidelity, by his own admission, goes back “some years”. Some will ask for more clarity as to this vague measure of time. Some will ask, why now resign? Some have already noted the longstanding rumours about Conry’s private life and have asked how much those in the English hierarchy knew when they pushed him forward to be bishop. Was this yet another cover-up, perhaps more palatable because the dalliance did not involve (1) a male nor (2) a minor?

Indeed, some have desired at least one outcome to this sad affair:

But perhaps at last Rome will wake up to the fact that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales is an old boys’ club that looks after its own. Kieran was one of the lads. If he hadn’t been, I suspect this scandal would have broken years ago.

I am too lowly to offer informed opinion here on such an assessment of the state of the English and Welsh bishops’ conference, nor would I want to do so. Nevertheless, in the light of the recently reported negative attitude of the Paraguayan bishops’ conference towards one of their own, the question arises almost naturally as to whether the local bishops’ conference held Bishop Conry in such positive regard as to be dangerous both for him and for the Church in England.

Looking back at Bishop Conry’s statement, some other questions will no doubt emerge from it. Of particular interest will be his future. Some might wonder of the wording of the statement is so composed as to allow for his leaving the priesthood altogether to be with his companion. He has been breaking his vows with her for “some years” (and so is not a lapse or a moment of weakness), and confesses and apologizes for the infidelity to his vows and to those who will be “hurt” by it, and for the shame it has brought on “the diocese and the Church” – but not, it seems, on himself. In other words, he seems to repent not of the relationship itself, but of its circumstances.

If so, that is better than nothing, and better late than never. However, one might wonder how a continuing relationship with his partner would cope with the aftermath of any resignation from the episcopacy and priesthood. It may only bring further harm on himself and his partner. Another path he could take is to repent fully and comprehensively, to re-commit to his vow of celibacy and resume, after a suitable period, the priestly ministry. Then, indeed, something of great and manifest value could be salvaged. The Church always benefits from the example of sinners who repent. Why could this not be the new direction his life should take? What fruit he could bear!

Whatever happens, all of us should be praying for him, that having confessed he might now repent and so experience the lavish mercy of God.

The Disturbing Case of a Bishop Deposed

When the news broke a few days ago that Pope Francis has removed Bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano from his office as bishop of the Paraguayan diocese of Ciudad del Este, it seemed on the face of things fairly clear why the action had been taken. Bishop Livieres had promoted to the rank of Vicar General a priest who, over a decade ago, had been at the centre of a messy scandal in the US diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Bishop Livieres

Bishop Livieres

Fr Carlos Urrutigoity had been at the head of a new traditionalist institute of priests, the Society of St John (SSJ), who had taken up residence as chaplains in a boys’ school, St Gregory’s Academy, which was conducted by the Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP). Disturbing allegations began to surface, not least from the man appointed to be headmaster of the school of their own they planned, Dr Jeffrey Bond. The allegations centred on the profligate spending of donor’s money by the SSJ (a dining table costing thousands of dollars comes to mind) and on the overtly sexual behaviour of at least two of the SSJ priests, including Urrutigoity, towards boarding students, including sexual assault and, in Urrutigoity’s case, sharing bed at night with pupils (I remember, but cannot now find the reference, that Urrutigoity claimed he wanted to help break down the culture of machismo among American youth). Eventually the bishops of the day, who had been supporting them, had to suspend the priests and eventually suppress the SSJ.

Carlos Urrutigoity

Carlos Urrutigoity

What makes this imbroglio more disturbing was that Urrutiogoity had previously been expelled from the Lefebvrist SSPX seminary in Winona for sexual misconduct. Prior to his resurfacing in the mainstream Church, he had a history. It is possible that he had been the victim of malice in Winona, but surely prudence would have prompted most bishops to discretion in dealing with him.

So when it came to light earlier this year that Urrutigoity was now in Paraguay, a priest in good standing, and moreover a Vicar General, many were disturbed. Many suspected that the American diocese of Scranton had kept silence on Urrutigoity’s record so that he could quietly transfer to Paraguay, and thus out of it responsibility. The current bishop of Scranton was stung and issued a statement clarifying matters, in particular that the diocese had in fact warned the Paraguayans about Fr Urrutigoity’s troubling history, and advised against taking him on as a priest, let alone making him vicar general. In the wake of these revelations, Rome announced an apostolic visitation of the diocese of Ciudad del Este in July. On the basis, we presume, of its findings the pope has now deposed Bishop Livieres.

———–

It all seemed fairly straightforward and sensible, if drastic. Though Bishop Livieres had claimed that Urrutigoity was the innocent victim of defamation and malice, and despite the diocese supporting the bishop, it was clear enough that the bishop had shown seriously poor judgment at the very least. But enough to depose him?

Well, Fr Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office has clarified the reasons the pope has deposed Bishop Livieres, and in answering one set of questions he has opened up another. Fr Lombardi, it seems, has suggested that Bishop Livieres was deposed not so much because of his gross indiscretion in accepting and promoting Fr Urrutigoity, but because he had a very poor relationship with the other bishops in Paraguay. The other bishops accused him of breaking “ecclesial communion”, and of fraud and embezzlement. Also, some highlight Bishop Livieres’ opposition to the Paraguayan President, Fernando Lugo, who left the episcopacy and the priesthood in order to stand for high political office; the other Paraguayan bishops approved this extraordinary step by Lugo.

President (and ex-bishop) Lugo

President (and ex-bishop) Lugo

So we are left with the impression that Bishop Livieres has been deposed primarily because he is out of step with the other bishops in Paraguay, and in particular with the onetime-bishop-now-President, who preferred secular power to spiritual authority. Many have argued that the creation of national bishops’ conferences has compromised a bishop’s rightful sovereignty in his diocese and introduced pressures to conform to the national consensus. Here we have a case in point. It is not as if Bishop Livieres was a poor performer by many measures. He opened his own seminary and, despite rejecting over 50% of candidates, priestly numbers in his diocese have grown from 79 to 140 since 2004. In the same period baptisms have risen from 9,543 to 21,556. Most bishops would covet such numbers as a measure of an effective episcopal administration.

Apostolic visitors do not issue public reports, so we might never know if Bishop Livieres is indeed guilty of financial misconduct. If he is, he deserved to be replaced. This, coupled with his manifest blunder in promoting the suspect Urrutigoity to high office, would be a strong argument for such firm action. However, if the real reason is, in fact, that this bishop was merely out of step with the other bishops, acted independently for the benefit of his own diocese, growing the numbers both of Catholics and clergy, and fearlessly (though possibly indiscreetly) speaking his mind on controversial local issues, then many will be left wondering if a basically good bishop has been victimized not for any crime against law or doctrine, but for rocking the boat too vigorously in his pursuit of a healthy local Church. If so, his error with regard to Fr Urrutigoity looms not quite so large. And many will now be louder in questioning what exactly might be the direction Pope Francis is seeking to take the Church. A more fundamental and enduring question might centre on the role and nature of national bishops’ conferences, and their effect on an individual bishop’s freedom to shepherd his own flock.

As a Chinaman might observe, we live in interesting times.

Where is St Edmund?

Where is St Edmund?

This will be an interesting read. The town would no doubt lay claim to his body, but his shrine was with the monks of Bury St Edmunds, whose successors we are.

If they find his body, St Edmund should come home to the monks of St Edmund’s at Douai Abbey. Naturally.

The Final Days of the UK

We subscribe to only two newspapers here at the monastery, and only to the Economist for other current affairs. The Week is an effective way to catch up on what the media have been saying about the affairs of the day. In the process they include a number of letters from the various papers. This week was this remarkable letter to The Independent.

The Scots will vote yes. And the rest of us will owe them a debt of gratitude. Their vote will send symbolically, in the only effective way our current democratic system permits, these messages to all our politicians:

We want not a change of government, but a change of politics. You lack the competence to run the country, and the vision to lead it. You lied to us and deceived us into an illegal war. You cheated and stole from us. A privileged, privately educated 7 per cent permanently holds up to 73 per cent of positions of power. Our representative democracy entrenches a profoundly unrepresentative power structure. The privileged power elite are not held accountable or punished for their venality, incompetence or mistakes.

We are justly proud of our NHS and the inspirational ideals that underpin it. We want those principles preserved, not undermined by subversive privatisation.

Good luck, Scotland. We respect your courage and admire your confidence.

It is remarkable for at least two things. First, it shows how clueless many people are about the referendum and the campaign for Scottish independence. To claim that a vote for independence will send a message to politicians about the nature of politics or the privitization of the NHS is wishful thinking at best. It is primarily about nationalism and the desire of some Scots to be free of the rest of Britain. It could be portrayed as romantic, though the incidents of intimidation of those speaking for the “No” campaign rather gives the lie to that image. Nationalism, unlike patriotism, is rarely if ever attractive. The twentieth century is nothing if not a memorial to the destructive power of nationalism.

Secondly, even if a “Yes” vote could be read as a cri de coeur about the state of British democratic politics, it is breathtakingly excessive. To the mind come images of sledgehammers cracking, no – crushing, peanuts or babies being thrown out with the bathwater. Because our leaders apparently “lack the competence to run the country”, the solution for this man is to dismantle the nation itself. We can only thank the good Lord that this correspondent is not one of the seven percent which holds 73 percent of power.

If the polls are accurate, Thursday may see the demise of the United Kingdom as it has existed for the last 300 years (well, with Scotland that is. Ireland was not included until 1801). The dismantling of one of the greatest nation-states in history (for better or for worse, or for both) will have been determined by a poll open to only 7% percent of its population. In this, at least, we could agree with the epistolator cited above, that “(o)ur representative democracy entrenches a profoundly unrepresentative power structure”. The decision will be based on a simple majority of those Scots who actually vote. The fate of an immensely important nation is in the hands of a tiny minority. In Australia for any constitutional change to be made a double majority is needed: a majority of voters in a majority of the six states. If the change affects one state in particular then a triple majority is needed: a majority of votes in the relevant state itself is also necessary. It is inherently, but not impossibly, conservative of course: of 44 constitutional referendums in Australia since Federation, only 8 have been passed. It makes for impressive stability and security.

The pro- independence campaign seeks a more prosperous Scotland, blaming Westminster for its woes. But The Economist (September 13-19 2014) puts its claims into question.

Scotland’s relative economic decline is the result not of southern neglect but of the shift of manufacturing and shipping to Asia. If Westminster has not reversed all the deleterious effects of globalisation and technology, that is because to do so is impossible. The nationalists know this, which is why, sotto voce, they would continue many of Westminster’s policies.

We might translate “sotto voce” here as “on the sly”. Westminster’s politicians, our epistolator opined, are not fit to govern, yet the government of a newly-independent Scotland would copy many of their policies. Who then, we might ask, is actually incompetent?

The nationalists make much of Britain getting all her North Sea oil revenue, yet they want to keep the British Pound. The nationalists seek effectively sovereign power over the British Pound and British oil, and sod the rest of us. If even if they had such a right, their economic arguments are equally unconvincing. Again from The Economist:

The nationalists’ economics are also flawed. Scotland would not, in fact, be richer alone. The taxes that would flow from the North Sea would roughly compensate for the extra cost of its lavish state, which would no longer be funded by Westminster (last year spending was some £1,300 per person higher in Scotland than elsewhere in Britain). But oil revenues are erratic. They would have earned Scotland £11.5 billion in 2008-09 but only £5.5 billion in 2012-13. If an independent state were to smooth these fluctuations by setting up an oil fund, it would have less cash to spend now. In any case, the oil is gradually running out. In order to maintain state spending after it is gone, taxes would have to rise. And the crunch might come much sooner. Foreign investors and big businesses that mostly serve English customers could well move south.

The nationalists have either failed to think long-term; or they have done so, not liked what they saw, and pretended they did not see it. Oil revenue is wholly dependent on the market price. And there is not that much oil left. The BBC quotes figures that suggest there is only 30-40 years of production remaining, and the Office of Budget Responsibility estimates a fall in oil revenue by 2017-18 of 38%. Moreover, since 1999 production has consistently declined. So who will pick up the tab for an independent Scotland? Not England and Wales and Northern Ireland. No, the Scottish taxpayer and moneylenders.

(Courtesy BBC)

(Courtesy BBC)

It is highly unlikely that Scotland will get to keep the Pound. To get the Euro it will have to apply, and indeed it will have to apply to join the EU itself. Both are very much in question. And to enter the EU a unanimous vote of member countries is required. Even if the remainder of the UK were not to vote against it, Spain probably would. Scottish independence would give heart to Catalan separatists, to the horror of the Spanish government. So Scotland could end being very, very much alone, sinking under debt, and with only themselves to blame; or rather, the slender majority who would have voted for such a state of affairs.

Some heady idealists on Facebook dream aloud (and perhaps mainly tongue in cheek) of the opportunity for an independent Scotland to restore a Catholic monarchy. Not likely! Scotland is a majority Protestant country and sectarianism there lives on. Moreover, Mr Salmond will want all the power and glory for himself.

And here is the rub. The only guaranteed winners of a “Yes” vote would be politicians and civil servants. A new civil service will have to be created to replicate what has hitherto been done by the UK civil service, and it will have to paid for by taxes and volatile oil revenues. And of course Scottish politicians would become leaders with international stature. How proud they will be. Their salaries will go up to reflect this new status, naturally. Then embassies and high commissions (one presumes Scotland will remain in the Commonwealth) will have to be built, and diplomats appointed. More money. From somewhere. Now wonder Scot pollies are so keen!

Truly, it is hard to see how the ordinary Scot will win, other than to have that wonderful frisson that comes from putting two fingers up to England. That frisson will not last long. The English will probably return the gesture, with a more devastating long-term effect on Scotland. While Scottish nationalists, in their triumph at having destroyed the UK, will be singing Scotland the Brave for a few nights, the remaining UK will sing Scotland the Knave for a lot longer.

It is Scotland’s choice, and hers alone. Laddies and lassies, you had better get it right.

A martyr journalist

As you will all know, James Foley, an American journalist captured by jihadists in 2012, was barbarously beheaded on a demonic video by a masked British jihadist. The Catholic Herald informs us that he was Catholic, and he had not lost his faith. After a previous kidnapping in 2011 in Libya, he wrote:

I kept telling (my colleague) Clare my mom had a strong faith. I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her. I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. 
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused. Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energising to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.

The video is something we should not watch; it is enough to know it exists. However there are many stills from the video showing him kneeling before his cowardly-masked murderer, calm and with head held high. It is not too much to believe, surely, that he was again praying the rosary on mental beads. If so, we can be sure Mary was advocate for him at the hour of his death, and can justifiably hope that soon he will be before the throne of the true God, washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

On that day, may he pray for us. Until then, we should (rosary in hand) pray for him: requiescat in pace

James Foley

James Foley

And may Satan’s laughter soon be silenced.

Voices Speaking Silence

Back in early July, Fr Ray Blake asked “Where have all the bloggers gone?” In my case, a trip to Australia, for my nephew’s priestly ordination and to give a retreat to his seminary in Perth (more on which another time), was in part responsible for stopping the blog flow here. For sure, my Digg was showing a significantly reduced number of posts from certain corners of the blogosphere, especially clerical corners. Fr Blake contrasted the blossoming of grassroots Catholic opinion in the new media that was fostered in the pontificate of Benedict XVI with the relative silence that had descended in the past year, a silence that grew louder in the wake of the effective suppression of the Protect the Pope blog by the (clerical) author’s bishop. There is probably a more complex web of circumstances surrounding that blog’s closure than we know, but it did not help that a blog devoted to upholding Church teaching had been silenced.

What Fr Blake diplomatically avoids stating is that there is another factor probably at play. Pope Francis does not have the disciplined, delicately nuanced and balanced rhetorical style of his recent predecessors on the papal cathedra. This pope is a structural reformer, not a theologian, philosopher or liturgist. He seeks to engage the mainstream media directly and this has meant that some of the things he has said, especially after often problematic translations, have sometimes caused confusion, if not alarm. The Vatican media office has had to face up quickly to the craft of advanced damage control. Bloggers have been quick to help, but the task has been overwhelming at times, and often vain.

Thus Fr Blake’s conclusion becomes a little clearer and more acute:

Most Catholics but especially clergy want to be loyal to the Pope in order to maintain the unity of the Church, today that loyalty is perhaps best expressed through silence.

Silence is not without virtue in the Christian life. Silence in the liturgy enriches our experience of the mysteries, helping God’s word and the great Sacrament to bear fruit in our hearts. Silence in our daily lives gives our psyches rest and nurtures growth in personality and wisdom. The silence of the individual in the face of injustice done to him or her can be a more powerful riposte than any words of recrimination or acts of retaliation: Christ himself exemplified this noble silence.

oil-painting-marcus-vincent_1163864_inl

However, silence is not always a virtue. Silence can become a vice, a passive collusion with evil. Silence in the face of injustice or evil done to others is just such a vice and collusion with evil.

For weeks the mainstream media was silent about the atrocities, indeed the nascent genocide, that marked the advance of ISIL (or ISIS, or now, Islamic State [IS]). It was non-mainstream outlets using the internet and social media who were revealing the scale of the horror IS was wreaking, especially on Christian minorities. There were a few red herrings (unsurprising in a relatively unregulated forum), and the constant stream of videos and pictures of hundreds, even thousands, of Christians daily being beheaded, crucified, tortured and otherwise horribly abused was in danger of breeding a macabre addiction in some people as it sometimes descended into something approaching “atrocity porn”.

Though the risk of desensitization to atrocity is real and not to be ignored, the stream of horrific content on blog and Facebook feeds was still necessary. The mainstream media was steadfastly refusing to report it, preferring to focus on the smaller, more complex, more politically chic conflict in Gaza. Their silence was giving our governments a green light to look the other way. In fact, both media and governments became obviously concerned when it emerged that the Yazidi minority was also being targeted. Make no mistake, that small, peaceable and inoffensive minority does not deserve any of the horrors IS has begun inflicting on it. The Yazidis deserve western protection and aid. The point is that only when this obscure and tiny minority (ie perfect material for a ‘story’) was under threat did the mainstream media start reporting in any depth on the IS caliphate-calamity in Iraq and Syria. The Christians in those lands also deserve western protection.

Thankfully some Muslims are finally expressing their horror. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has called IS “enemy number one” of Islam. Muslim commentators on Iraqi television have wept over the cruel destruction of the minorities that traditionally make up Iraq, likening them to petals of an Iraqi rose. While one might question how truly unrepresentative of Islam the Islamic State jihadists actually are, it is good to see that parts of the Muslim world are waking to the implications of the rise of IS. To be fair, when one sees photos of jihadists slitting people’s throats with glee, or joyfully parading with severed heads in their hands, one sees not so much the works of Islam as of Satan.

Christians crucified by IS jihadists

Christians crucified by IS jihadists

Catholics of the west would do better to forego any obsession with the latest antics of the leaders of America’s religious sisters, or with the non-news of the Vatican’s reaffirmation of previous instructions and rubrics about the exchange of peace at Mass, or even with the complex drama of Gaza (where the only indisputably innocent parties are the children). Instead we should be on our knees praying, and fasting, and giving alms, in solidarity with our persecuted brethren in the biblical lands.

An excellent form of solidarity would be to reflect in our personal lives the witness (martyria in Greek) being given by the persecuted Christians of the Middle East. What small suffering could we embrace for their sake? Even better perhaps, what small (or large) vice in our lives could we make a concerted effort to escape, for their sake as much as for our own. If the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, it can also be the seed of our holiness.

There can be silence no longer about this atrocity. Silence implies consent; and, at the very least, evil prospers when the just do, and say, nothing. This does concern us. IS has set its sights on the west, not least on Rome, and on Washington. And IS means business, as their genocidal and demonic acts clearly show.

Father in Heaven, you make your sun shine
on good and bad alike.
Your Son Jesus Christ died for us all
and in his glorious Resurrection
He still retains the five wounds of his Passion.
With his divine power he now sustains
all those who suffer persecution and martyrdom
for the sake of their fidelity
to the faith of the Church.
Merciful and mighty Father,
do not allow Cain to return again to murder
helpless Abel, innocent Abel.
May persecuted Christians around the world
remain, like Mary, their Mother,
together at the foot of the cross
of Christ the Martyr.
Comfort those menaced by violence
and those oppressed by uncertainty.
May your Holy Spirit of love
make fruitful the witness and the blood
of those who die forgiving.

Amen.

From Aid to the Church in Need.

Even more good news

Further to the previous post, it has just been announced that the Sudanese government is to free Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy under Sharia law because her father is Muslim, though she has never been.

Thanks be to God! But let’s not kid ourselves. Sudan’s expressed desire to be a civilized nation probably would not have come without the international outrage that met the news of Meriam’s death sentence and the degrading conditions under which she gave birth to her child.

And prayer…