Roman Catholics in Arundel and Brighton are devastated by the loss of their bishop who they "admired and loved" the Bishop of Portsmouth has said.
Writing to his diocese about Bishop Kieran Conry, who resigned as bishop of the adjacent diocese of Arundel and Brighton after admitting to sexual misconduct, Bishop Philip Egan said that chastity often involves a struggle but it is "a virtue to which every member of the Body of Christ is called".
In a message included in a weekly electronic bulletin and reported by The Catholic Herald, Bishop Egan said: "Whenever we find out, unexpectedly, that someone has fallen from grace, our first reaction should be to ask God to have mercy upon us too for our own sins. Indeed, having spoken with priests and people from Arundel and Brighton, devastated by the loss of a bishop they admired and loved, I can only suggest we pray earnestly for God's mercy and healing, and the renewal of Gospel hope."
He continued: "Chastity is a virtue to which every member of the Body of Christ is called. It often involves a struggle. This is why we need constantly to ask Jesus for his grace, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In Confession, we should be absolutely honest about our sins and candid about our weaknesses."
He said that celibacy was a demanding vocation, but obedience was even more challenging. It was, he said, "really problematic for many in today's context, an era in which freedom is often taken to mean 'freedom from' and 'doing what I want'. In fact, freedom is not the ability to do what I want to do but to do what I ought to do."
He continued: "As disciples of Jesus, we must put Jesus first. We must overcome any latent narcissism and become 'Other-centred'. We must give ourselves totally to Him in order to develop a vibrant, personal relationship with Him. After all, this is the Way to human happiness. Otherwise, fallen human nature being what it is, we will end up doing our own thing, and this will inevitably bring us into conflict not only with the teaching and authority of the Church, but also with what truth and conscience demand."
Bishop Conry said in a Sunday Times interview after his resignation: "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."