By Hilary White

LONDON, December 22, 2008 ( – In an interview last week, a UK Catholic bishop said that his Church’s teaching on artificial contraception is a matter of small importance, and insisted that contraception has nothing to do with abortion. Bishop Kieran Conry of the southern diocese of Arundel and Brighton said the Church’s doctrine on artificial contraception is not a “key” teaching and that disobedience to it is “not high up on the list” of sins.

Asked if the seminal 1968 encyclical letter by Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, was a mistake, Bishop Conry replied, “I don’t know.” He said, “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.”

Humanae Vitae, the document that reiterated the Church’s historic teaching on contraception, has been called the most maligned and ignored of all modern papal teachings. Bishop Conry’s comments are in line with a long tradition of Catholic bishops in western countries who widely rejected the document when it appeared and have been strongly criticised by their own faithful for having done little to promote or defend it since.

Asked if it matters if people disobey the teaching of Humanae Vitae, the bishop replied, “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.”
  Fr. Timothy Finigan, a priest of the diocese of Southwark, a seminary theology professor and popular blogger, however, told that he had to “respectfully disagree” with the bishop on nearly every point.

Fr. Finigan, who is also the founder of the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life, said, “Well, we know don’t we, that abortion and contraception are closely connected and that contraception is clearly a ‘life issue’. The main reason we know people go for abortion, which we know from the people who counsel women [in crisis pregnancies], is that they use contraception, rely upon it, then when it fails, they abort.”

On his Daily Telegraph blog, the editor of the Catholic Herald, Damian Thompson, wrote, “These are shocking things for a bishop to say.”

Calling Bishop Conry an “uber-liberal,” Thompson wrote, “I’ve thought for a long time that Kieran Conry, a thoroughly decent and compassionate man, should resign as Bishop of Arundel and Brighton.”

“And yet,” added Thompson, “at least he has the guts to speak his mind. Several leading bishops of England and Wales share these views; but surreptitiously. They are too cowardly to reveal what they really think.”