07 октября 2014 11:00

Pope accepts 'unfaithful' British bishop's resignation


Pope Francis. ©REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini Pope Francis. ©REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

 Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a British bishop who stood down after admitting to an affair with a woman, the Vatican said on Monday, AFP reports.

 Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a British bishop who stood down after admitting to an affair with a woman, the Vatican said on Monday, AFP reports.

"The Holy Father Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Kieran Conry from the dioceses of Arundel and Brighton," a statement said.

Conry, 64, apologised in a letter to parishioners to being "unfaithful to my promises as a Catholic priest" but underscored his actions were not illegal and did not involve minors.

The Catholic Church has come under pressure to reconsider the tradition of clerical celibacy, which is not an unchangeable doctrine but has been practised for hundreds of years.

Proponents argue a change could slow a sharp decline in ordinations in Europe.

Conry, who was appointed by Pope John Paul II in 2001 as bishop of Arundel and Brighton in southeast England, has admitted to having a sexual relationship with a woman six years ago.

He resigned after a British press report that the estranged husband of another woman hired a private detective to follow his wife, who had slept at the bishop's house.

The bishop has said that the latter relationship was merely a close friendship. He told The Sunday Times that he hopes to retain a role in the Church.

"When a priest makes a promise of celibacy, he promises to remain unmarried, that’s all. Then the ordinary rules of morality apply," Conry told the newspaper on Sunday.

"But I'd like to make it clear I'm not calling for a change. I did wrong.

"Celibacy may be a tradition rather than an article of faith but the vast majority of priests are faithful to their promise, faithful to what the church expects of them. And I have great respect and admiration for that."

   'Ordain married men' 

Francis promised "solutions" to the issue of priestly celibacy in an interview with an Italian newspaper this summer, but said the problem was not a major one.

Conry resigned as 250 bishops gathered in the Vatican for an extraordinary synod on family life, that will touch on sensitive issues including divorce and unmarried couples.

A Church survey of parishes ahead of the gathering found that most Catholics ignored teachings on sex and contraception.

Francis has called on the bishops to speak frankly in the meeting, expected to be an important milestone in his papacy.

Conry's predecessor as Bishop of Arundel, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, expressed support for the Church accepting married priests in some circumstances in an interview last week.

"If I were a bishop of a diocese that had a very small number of priests I would ask permission I think of Rome to ordain suitable married men," Murphy-O'Connor told BBC radio.

"I think it's got to be done very carefully because I think celibacy is a great gift to the church. But circumstances may I think...may impel bishops and bishops conferences to ordain married men."

The Orthodox and Protestant Churches admit married priests.

The head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, Vincent Nichols, described Conry's resignation as a "difficult and sad moment".

The Archbishop of Southwark Peter Smith has been named the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese until a new bishop takes up the office.

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