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Does the Pope really agree with Bishop Kieran Conry?

When it comes to evangelisation, the two of them seem to be heading in opposite directions

By on Friday, 23 July 2010

Bishop Kieran Conry pictured with Pope Benedict XVI in January

Bishop Kieran Conry pictured with Pope Benedict XVI in January

I was intrigued last week by a little story which many readers will have passed by without a second glance, but which is probably worth looking at again: it appeared under the headline “English bishop criticises New Evangelisation council”. 

Now, the creation of a new Vatican dicastery is not to the average man or woman in the pew an earth-shaking event. And according to Bishop Kieran Conry, speaking in a BBC interview, the new council is superfluous, and the analysis on which it is based is totally wrong: “He was not convinced,” reported the Herald, “by the notion that secularisation lies at the heart of the Church’s decline in Europe.”

Now, Bishop Conry is the English bishop who has been put in charge of “evangelisation” in England, so he really ought to know what he’s talking about. And I’m sure he would be horrified if he were thought to be criticising the Pope, especially after that heart-warming picture of the two of them together, both smiling affectionately.

And it may have escaped his notice, I’m sure it must have, that the new council is at the very heart of the Pope’s intentions for his pontificate, and that if there has been one recurrent theme in his public utterances, it has been the need to fight the growth of secularism in the modern world. In the words of the authoritative Roman commentator Sandro Magister, Benedict XVI “is so convinced that leading men to God is ‘the supreme and fundamental priority’ of the Church and of the successor of Peter, that not only has he made it the centre of his preaching, he has also drawn from it the decision to create in the Roman Curia a dicastery expressly dedicated to the ‘new evangelisation’ of the countries where the modern eclipse of God is most pronounced”.

Bishop Conry, though, doesn’t at all believe that “the modern eclipse of God” is the real reason for the Church’s decline. The real reason, he thinks, is that the Church will bang on about basic Christian beliefs.  “You can’t talk to young people about salvation,” you may remember him saying in a Catholic Herald interview with Andrew M Brown. “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.”

Bishop Kieran is really keen on saving the planet: at one point he put up on his website a youth Mass with a liturgy designed to appeal to these same young people. The liturgy listed suggestions for virtuous behaviour, including tips on high-energy light bulbs, handing out Fairtrade chocolate and, in a list of things to be sorry for in the penitential rite, leaving water in your kettle. 

The whole interview is naturally worth reading again by anyone who is really keen on the conversion of England. It leaves us all with a problem, though: the Pope and Bishop Conry, on the face of it, don’t seem to agree about evangelisation at all. Perhaps the bishop needs now to work out a statement explaining why this only seems to be the case: after all, the Pope is pretty green, maybe there’s something he could do with that?

  • http://twitter.com/Christomicro Christopher Wright

    Another bandwagon Bishop. If yoof don't understand the message of salvation, don't worry – change the subject to environmental salvation, and preach what is acceptable. Then (maybe) they'll lap it up.

  • LiberalTraditionalist

    I’d love it if Bishop Conry would come straight out and state categorically that the Catholic Faith is alive & well in the diocese of A&B. I suspect though that the stats on Mass Attendance, Parish Amalgamations, Vocations and Ordinations suggest the opposite.

    Being trendy with the exclusive concentration on youth culture only serves to make the church look ridiculous.

    I appreciate that the decline pre-dates Bishop Conry’s episcopate but our Bishops need to feel their own personal responsibility for the Church’s inexorable decline in England.

  • pattif

    I don't think they agree on the need for frequent Confession, either.

  • pattif

    I don't think they agree on the need for frequent Confession, either.

  • Kenny

    I heard that interview on the radio. It was less than edifying, but then we expect no more from our Bishops, do we?. They seem to let us(the faithfull) and the Church in genral down at every turn.
    That God for The Holy Father .

  • Et Expecto

    Fortunately many of our bishops are due to retire in the next few years. Unfortunately Bishop Conry is not one of them.

  • FrHeythrop

    Mr Oddie, sorry, Dr Oddie, Conry is dead right. The Christian understanding of salvation has been evolving for centuries and to communicate the gospel to contemporary culture the idea of salvation must be reinterpreted in an appropriate manner. There is simply no future for a church that clings to Benedict's Augustinian world view.

  • W Oddie

    Heythrop, eh? Well, surprise, surprise.

  • James

    I am afraid that Bishop Conry is sadly out of touch with today's younger generation. Those who are concerned at saving the planet will join Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or the Green Party and not an organisation which seeks to deny equality in the eyes of the law and the Inland Revenue to the gay people amongst them whom they accept as their equals.

  • Kenny

    I hope to God you are not really a” Fr”. Spouting tosh like that

  • Innocent Smith

    I can understand the need to want to be understood. As an evangelisation strategy, though, its associated vice is to think that all you need to do is to make yourself understood.

    I'm also surprised that Bishop Conry showed no awareness of some of the best work on secularisation, such as Charles Taylor's 'A Secular Age'. To hear him poo poo the reality of secularisation is a bit embarrassing to be honest.

    http://thesundaymorningsoapbox.blogspot.com/201

  • Gramstadt

    The young want the Truth about Salvation (and that includes the Doctrine of Hell) more than fair-trade chocolate bars. Our Immortal souls are more important than this perishable planet. From John (using his wife's facebook account – too lazy to set up my own)

  • Gramstadt

    I will cling to the rule of Saint Benedict and Augustine's City of God as much as I want thank you very much. Clinging to Bishop Kieran's opinions re: soteriology is actually quite hard.
    They're slippery with no substance to hang on to.

  • MJCarroll

    I don't think people really realise just how important this issue is in the Catholic Church. I find it strange that the leaders of the Catholic Church have not realised that the the common force against evangelisation and for the secularisation of Western Europe is globalization and the social disintegration that goes hand in hand with it. As a previous lecturer in globalization I believe that I have some authority to say this. Enlightened youth are aware at a basic level that globalization exists and fair trade, climate change protesting are are a way of counteracting this. I agree with Bishop Conry absolutely.

    However, let us also not forget that evangelisation is a thing of the past in this country. Why? Catholic leaders in ivory towers not accepting the truth and thinking everything be alright in the end. Well, it is time for their wake up call. Everything will not be alright in the church. Vatican II seems to have given Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops carte blanche to be lazy and to 'pass the buck' to inexperienced priests and their congregations.

    It is time for lazy British Bishops to wake up and get a grip of reality and show leadership in society and have a sense of public duty. Having said that leaders in the Vatican can also take the blame for putting their heads in the sand regarding Western Europe.

  • MJCarroll

    I don't think that you realise that youth formation in the church is a front line ministry. It is not a matter of being trendy. If you went to the large Catholic youth events at Walsingham such as New Dawn or Youth 2000 you would be shocked to see that when young people convert to the church there is a higher level of spirituality and worship than anywhere else in the church. It should be a pre-requisite that the youth are evangelised.

    Having said that I do agree whole heartedly that the Bishops have been shunning their responsibility. It is time for them to stand up and take the blame and stop navel gazing!

  • MJCarroll

    I don't really think that Mr. Oddie really understood the quotes of Bishop Conry and certainly did not pick out the most important quote. He was saying it is rediculous to have an evalgelisation council because the whole church is supposed to evangelise.
    He said: “I think the Church has a problem in its own proclamation of the Gospel and you wonder why you’d set up this office for evangelisation anyway, because the whole mission of the Church is evangelisation, the proclamation of the Gospel. I don’t think we’re doing that terribly well.”I am surprised so many people are against Bishop Conry. Evangelisation in this country as all but died out. It is about time a Bishop stood up to the plate and finally admitted there is a real problem here. He should be congratulated. In that respect I think you will find the Pope and Bishop Conry are quite literally singing from the same hymn sheet.

  • MJCarroll

    Thousands of what you disparigingly call 'yoofs' were evangelised in to the church by the actions of John Paul II. This so called 'band wagon' Bishop may be using things that the youth are into, but I don't see very many other people making an effort in this country. ARE YOU? Time for bishops, priests and layity to pull their finger out!

    I don't think that you realise that youth formation in the church is a front line ministry. It is not a matter of being trendy. If you went to the large Catholic youth events at Walsingham such as New Dawn or Youth 2000 you would be shocked to see that when young people convert to the church there is a higher level of spirituality and worship than anywhere else in the church. It should be a pre-requisite that the youth are evangelised.

  • W Oddie

    I think I understood exactly what Bishop Conry was saying. The idea that 'the Pope and Bishop Conry are 'quite literally singing from the same hymn sheet' is ludicrous.

  • LiberalTraditionalist

    I’d love to take you up on the Walsingham offer; however, I’d probably not get in due to their “Door Policy.”

    I can speak from experience as a Father of three teenagers who were educated in A&B schools and who worshipped in A&B parishes.

    From my standpoint, the churches in A&B are too trendy for their liking and school chaplaincy isn’t very well regarded by them and their friends.

    A&B and many other dioceses have lost several generations and, despite the merits of Youth Ministry, the Church continues to lose young people. Those adults who run our parishes these days just don’t get it; so why do they seek to dilute the church’s message in a vain attempt at niche marketing?

    What they've been doing for the past 40 years hasn't worked.

  • john grosvenor

    We should'nt give up on yoof too quickly, however bad the situation may seem, look at how bad Hitler yoof looked and yet they produced a pope

  • thomaspj

    Bishop Kieran Conry gives Hope to a Church that is “falling away like rust” in the words of a Priest friend of mine who exercised his ministry in Europe for about 25 years or so. We need Prophets, Apostles, Sons and Daughters of God to make the Church relevant in the modern world and not just ‘Priests’ and ‘Bishops’. Jesus Made his 12 Apostles, not just Priests. And did he make Bishops at all? Reducing it to mere priesthood or Bishophood is as good as doing away with Jesus.

    Did not Jesus say, “will there be faith left on earth” when the Son of Man comes?

  • Hoka

    So long as you've got “A Parish Dedicated to Fairtrade” across the banner of your weekly bulletin, you're OK! And then the parish priest wonders why he sits in the Confessional all alone every Saturday morning.

  • MJCarroll

    Hi, I'm a month late on this reply but just thought I'd say that I actually agree with you. A lot of parish youth workers do actually dilute the teaching. They obviously do it because they think they will turn the kids off Catholicism.

    However, the truth is it works best when the Youth Workers do not pull their punches and lay the Truth down on the line. I do not know what the local Youth 2000 groups are like but when it comes to the big national events then it is 'full on' teaching and I have witnessed the fact that the 'tough issues' are dealt with head on and the teenagers respond to this. One of the most noticeable consequences of this it the large attendance at confession which was a shock when I saw it.

    We see the same effect in British convents where the most successful at gaining vocations are the more traditional, hard line orders that have no problem attracting younger Sisters. The less traditional convents are struggling.

    So despite what I said – I whole heartedly agree with you.

  • MJCarroll

    To be honest I have just come back to this post and like to think I will always admit when I got it wrong. I think I got the 'wrong end of the stick' and coming back to the article I can see that there is a difference between the Pope's view & Bishop Conry's. I must have been having 'one of those days'. My apologies.

  • PCH

    John, I feel I must correct you. The Hitler Youth did not produce a Pope. Joseph Ratzinger( now Pope Benedict XVI) was forced to join the Hitler Youth but did everything in his power to evade action other than to desert when he got the opportunity and who was already chosen for his Pontificate before he was born. Also, you are so right that we should not give up on the youth as they have responded to the call of Venerable John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI so much because of the World Youth Days and those who have not also have the opportunity to be 'a work in progress – it is a matter of helping them to find the Truth through the new evangelisation.

  • Bart_0117

    I absolutely loathe this widespread myth that one must speak the language of the youths in order to evangelise them. Those who spread such myth are usually from the generations above who showed us no example as to how to lead a life in accordance with the Church’s teachings, showed us no sound liturgy where the lay faithful and the Celebrant alike were entirely devoted to AMDG.

    Contrary to common beliefs, the young ARE capable of reasoning and debating and eventually accepting Church Doctrine. Contrary to common beliefs, the young DO see the beauty of the EF. Contrary to common beliefs, NOT all the young are so keen on guitars and drums as they would like us to believe.

    The young are impressionable but not stupid. We like it when Fathers preach from the pulpit about the only Truth that matters. We like it when Fathers take the Eucharist seriously; especially when they lock their fingers for Elevations.

    Oh by the way, I am not targeting any specific groups or individuals.

  • Streatham Cleric

    God knows how this man was created a Bishop!
    He does not like wearing his purple skull cap – evident in the photo above with the Supreme Pontiff and if you review the Papal Mass at Westminster footage he was not wearing one there as well!