Friday, December 19, 2008

An Interview With A Pastor Who Actually Gets The Gospel

Bishop Kieran Conry, a progressive who also gets around well in Latin.

Here's part of an interview with Roman Catholic Bishop Kieran Conry of the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton in the UK. In it he makes some stunning admissions, given that he's a diocesan bishop. I'm sure he will take a huge amount of flack from the right.

Could the Church be more radical? Talk about the serious questions - repentance, salvation?

"You can't talk to young people about salvation. What's salvation? What does salvation mean? My eternal soul? You can only talk to young people in young people's language, really. And if you're going to talk to them about salvation, the first thing they will understand is saving the planet. You're talking about being saved and they will say: 'What about saving the planet?'

"Doesn't Jesus talk in black and white terms, as if we might be in danger?

"Shoulder my yoke and learn from me," quotes the bishop, "for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light."

Doesn't he also say we should repent, beware of sin - a stark message?

"Not stark. According to where you look in the Gospel, and again if you go to Matthew 25, the final parable of Jesus, only in Matthew's Gospel - 'When I was hungry, you fed me ... naked and you clothed me ... you visited me in prison.' That would resonate much more with young people."

Does he think people should have a sense of personal sin?

"Yes [firmly]. And I think young people do." He gives an example: the helpers' reconciliation service on the diocesan Lourdes pilgrimage. It started at nine o'clock and the last young person left the chapel at 11.15.

Is it a good idea to go to Confession regularly?

"No, because my own experience when we had Confession every day at St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham was that regular penitents came back with exactly the same words week after week. So there you would say, actually, there is no conversion taking place."

What about the Four Last Things? Has the Church lost the vigour with which it used to talk about Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven?

"Again it would be inappropriate to say 'the Church has lost...' People have lost a sense of sin."

So the Church shouldn't bang on about sin?

"No, not necessarily. Because that won't necessarily re-instil ... and you don't know whether you want to face people with a primary experience of Church which is sin."

Was the Church morbidly obsessed with guilt and sin in the past?

"Might have been, but again I haven't got enough evidence."

Too much emphasis on sexual morality?

"It's sometimes distorted. For instance, we rarely talk about economic honesty, financial honesty, we rarely talk about greed and wastefulness. "

But to young people, boiling a kettle, wasting water, saving the planet, that's language they will understand. Then you can move on from there:

'Right, do you understand what saving means? Do you understand what good and bad is here?' And they'll say 'yes' and you can say: 'Right now, if you look at your own life...'

You don't hear the word "hell" mentioned that often in the average parish church, compared with in the New Testament.

"Why should you? How many times is hell mentioned in the New Testament? Do a word count."

I wanted to pin this down: has the traditional homily featuring fire and brimstone been abandoned for the reason that it puts people off?

"No, no, it's not because it puts people off. It's because the truth is that God loved the world so much that he sent his only son to die for us."

He was speaking from the heart, though he couldn't resist lapsing into Greek jargon:

"That is the basic kerygma of the Church. It has always been. It's not that you are a sinner, but that God loved the world so much, and you see that is the primitive Church's kerygma, its basic message. It's not about us, it's about God, and if we put the emphasis on ourselves we become heretical, we become Jansenists. I become the centre of the Church - an anthropocentric model of the Church, it's all about me and me being saved. It's not, it's a theocentric model of Church which is: God loved the world, this is God's action, stemming from God's love for us. It is not God's wish to condemn."

Is it possible that this image of God seems bland and boring to young people?

"No, I would disagree. Young people want to be loved. We all want to be loved."

Can they get that from other sources?

"They can, but how many do? They need to be told God loves them. They don't need to be told: 'You're heading for hell.' No. I would disagree profoundly with that view, profoundly, profoundly."

Time to move on to something else. It is 40 years since Humanae Vitae. It became acceptable, I suggested, for many otherwise loyal Catholics to routinely disobey a key teaching of the Church.

"Well, first of all, I would disagree that it's a key teaching. The key teachings of the Church are in the Creed. It's not a life issue."

To do with the transmission of life, then?

"It's to do with what family and married life means, being open to procreation. So it's not a life issue because then you tie it in with abortion. The two are completely different issues."

Does it matter if people disobey that teaching?

"In the great scheme of things I don't think it's high up the list. It became a very public issue which affected a significant number of people, not the majority of Catholics. The majority of Catholics are not in that position, where birth control is an issue. Look around on Sunday morning and see 'is birth control an issue for most people here?' No, it's not. But it became the place where the tug of war took place: it was to do with dissent and obedience. Can you be a Catholic and dissent?"

He thinks there should be greater emphasis on the virtues.

"Why do people never go back to the Beatitudes, 'blessed are the poor in spirit'? You know, are you poor in spirit? No. Does that bother you? No. Do you practise birth control? Does that bother you? Yes. We've got a very distorted view of what we think Christian morality is."

The Church has attempted to codify every detail of our behaviour hasn't it?

"Yes, but it rarely in tradition has attempted to codify charity, for instance. Again the basic commandment of God - love God, love your neighbour. That has been left largely unexplored."

Codify charity?

"You can't quantify love. The birth control issue becomes easy because it's measurable. You do it or you don't. But love: you do it or you don't do it, how can you measure that? We fight the easy battles but we ignore the bigger ones."

Was Humanae Vitae a mistake?

"I don't know. I don't know. But at the same time we've seen the disastrous effects of the devaluing of sexual relationships, to say they don't mean anything, which has had catastrophic effects on society, catastrophic effects on the value of women."

He disagrees with environmentalists who attack the Church's teaching on birth control.

"You get people like George Monbiot saying: 'If the Pope changes his position tomorrow, the world would be rid of the scourge of Aids.' He's talking nonsense. Because, first of all, what percentage of the developing world is Catholic? The biggest growth in population is among Islam, not among Catholics. The Church isn't encouraging people to have children, it's the culture. That's not why they're having large families, because the Church is teaching it."

But is the teaching itself wrong?

"It could be. It's not an infallible teaching. Clearly the basic Creed formula, what the Church teaches about the sacraments is infallible but there's only been one strictly infallible statement."

So in a sense it's a matter of opinion?

"Well, it's... It is. It's an expression, however, of something quite profoundly important about human sexuality and relationships. If you really love your fellow human being then you'll have profound respect for them and that has clearly disappeared from large sections of our contemporary society."


The more I read this interview the more I'm like "WOW", and Bishop Conry is not even retired, and at 57, not even close to retirement. Finally some sense and perspective in the sexual culture wars.

Speaking of sense and perspective in the sexual culture wars, it certainly seems Barack Obama has really stepped in the doodoo with his choice of Rick Warren to give the Inaugural Invocation.

It also seems as if Rick has stepped in the doodoo as he is getting blasted by prolife websites who consider him a new Benedict Arnold.

This choice seems to be a perfect example of how 'reasonableness' has left the room on the gay and abortion issues, and will not return. Although I am really disappointed and disturbed by this choice of Obama's, it points out the fact that all these years of rightwing rhetoric has served it's purpose--that of vehemently dividing this country along the lines of their chosen cultural values.

I had sincerely hoped that under Obama, their voices might be muted, but apparently Obama has some delusional belief that he and his buddy Rick can bring civility into situations in which civility is an unwelcome commodity.

Maybe Obama is relying on the insight of Cardinal Basil Hume who once said it was easier to deal with the Looney left rather than the Righteous right, because at least the Looney left were genuinely nice people. If he is, and thinks that the anger and disappointment he has given progressives with this choice of Pastor Warren will blow over, he's making a huge mistake. We weren't the ones who talked about hope and change as he ran for president. We're just the ones who believed in the message enough to help get the messenger elected.

This selection is not just a case of failure to deliver on hopes promised. It's a choice to give a very prominent national stage to a man who did his utmost to take away a hope California gays had been legally given. And Rick Warren did it in the name of Christ, with deceptive and decietful politics. I will pray and pray and pray that Rick Warren doesn't turn out to be the symbol of the Obama legacy.

In my book of spirituality Rick Warren is no different than Jeremiah Wright. Hate preached in the name of the Gospel is still hate. Perhaps Barack should ring up Bishop Conry and talk with someone who actually seems to get the Gospel.


  1. I think everyone is worrying way to much about Rick Warren. He is a token, nothing more.

    The important choices are the cabinet positions, the important issues are the legislative issues Obama will be dealing with. Rich Warren is a token, nothing more. A token that is a momentary flash in the pan, one short soundbite on the evening news, then he will be gone, replaced by another soundbite.

    More important to watch are the behind the scene actions of activists such as monyhan etal. Much more important to watch and expose organizations such as Opus Dei and their activities. Much more important to remember that if agents of the catholic church will murder a pope, do we think that they will be any less hesiant to do the same with a premier or president who gets in their way?

    Warren is small potatoes, not worth the rhetoric that is being wasted on him. He is like the abortion issue in the election, a smoke screen to draw attenion away from more important things.

  2. In one sense you are correct. This tempest will blow over, but in another I'm not sure.

    Rick Warren is very closely connected to the Colorado Springs bunch, just like McCloskey and Monaghan. He maybe a trojan horse. I am far more interested in knowing just how much access Warren will have to the Obama whitehouse.

    Warren strikes me as the kind of guy who talks the talk, but is walking an entirely different kind of walk behind the evangelical talk.

  3. This was in the news today:

    "Obama defended his choice on Thursday, saying that he has also invited Joseph Lowery, a Methodist minister and civil rights leader who supports same-sex marriage and gay rights, to deliver the benediction."

    Obama has been "inclusive" throughout his campaign and throughout his preinaugeration activities. I see this as one more "inclusive" action where he is living his personal mandate to bring unity into greater expression in this country.

    todays word is "clifice" -