21 March 2015, The Tablet

Report into Cardinal O'Brien should be published

Pope Francis must hope that his swift, decisive action against Cardinal Keith O'Brien will draw the line under a scandal that done great harm to the Church in Scotland and beyond. 

The Pope's personal intervention lies behind the announcement last Friday that O'Brien is surrendering the duties and trappings of a cardinal and the repetition of his profound apologies for sexual misdemeanours. It is an appropriate sanction against the breathtaking hypocrisy of a church leader who made advances to seminarians and young priests yet nevertheless felt entitled to rail against homosexuality and gay marriage in the most blunt terms.

A story such as O'Brien's is a reminder of the human weakness that is common to us all. It is hard to find it in our hearts to forgive someone who has betrayed our trust. As Christians we have to be merciful but it's tough. Mercy must be accompanied by justice. Forgiving him does not mean the full implications of what he did should remain hidden.

We still don't know whether O'Brien was someone who sporadically shed in his inhibitions when he'd had a few drinks and then felt profoundly ashamed or whether his was a pattern of coercive behaviour and abuse of power and patronage.

The quote from one of O'Brien's accusers saying that the report prepared for Francis "is “hot enough to burn the varnish” off the Pope’s desk" suggests the latter but we cannot be sure without seeing this report for ourselves. The report was prepared by Archbishop Charles Scicluna, previously chief prosecutor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, someone who has the drive and determination to uncover the truth. That is apparent from his work in exposing the sickening corruption of Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

It's important to know if Cardinal O'Brien promoted priests not on the basis of their abilities but because they were his favourites. It is also alleged that Likewise, that competent men of integrity were blocked, either because they spurned his advances or, because they challenged him over his behaviour.  

This whole matter came to light because five men - four priests and one ex-priest - complained that O'Brien made unwanted sexual advances to them. The circumstances vary but a common factor in these allegations is that O'Brien was in a position of authority over vulnerable adults, either as their seminary rector or their archbishop. If Archbishop Scicluna found this to be true O'Brien's offence is much more serious that him simply breaking is vow of celibacy.

Catholics in Scotland will be grateful that Cardinal O'Brien is well and truly off the scene but wary about whether he has left an unwholesome legacy in his former Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. Without the publication of Archbishop Scicluna's report, or at least a summary of it that protects the identity of complainants and witnesses, they are not in a position to judge for themselves.

What do you think?


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User comments (8)

Comment by: sbvarenne
Posted: 28/03/2015 10:44:09

Let's have the report--pronto. The days are over and gone when we kept quiet out of fear of scandal. There is scandal everywhere in the Church now and the only way to deal with it is to acknowledge it in the most public way possible.

Comment by: Brownie10
Posted: 27/03/2015 22:37:05

This is what constitutes bishop accountability?

Comment by: Randy
Posted: 25/03/2015 16:48:44

The reason for 20 or 30 years of NOT reporting is very simple but hard to suffer...the young girls and boys were told by the priests that THEY were wrong, THEY would be sinners, THEY might be hurt by the priests, THEY must never tell...and also the victims feelings of being bad and worthless because THEY were told it was all THEIR fault...from a friend that was abused in Maryland...

Comment by: jaime
Posted: 23/03/2015 18:52:44

The term of Cardinal O'Brien's scathing attacks on Homosexuality and Gay Marriage and yet approaching young seminarians and young priests is Self Hatred. I know of many great priests who belonged to the Daughters of Trent and the Dignity Groups. Love is for all and not just for hypocritical prelates.

Comment by: guest
Posted: 23/03/2015 17:58:03

Am I the only father, grandfather husband and practising Catholic to feel uncomfortable about the O'Brien debacle? My observation is that there is a disproportionate number of gay men in the Catholic priesthood. What saddens me in my lifetime is that so many good candidates and priests were barred because of needing the experience of marriage

Comment by: Ed
Posted: 23/03/2015 15:00:31

Whilst reading comments on Cardinal O'Brien, one of which questions why victims had remained silent, I noticed the invitation at the side of each one to 'Report abuse'. Enough said.

Comment by: Francis
Posted: 22/03/2015 11:19:32

Cardinal Murphy- O'Connor is on record as saying that the church must be open and transparent. As in so many other instances, there is a wide gap between what the hierarchy say and what actually happens in practice. As a gay man I have been at the receiving end of all the harsh, demoralising and pastorally-insensitive language used by popes and other members of the hierarchy in the past and it is obvious that the Church's own Catechism relating to gay people has been either completely ignored or forgotten. The hypocrisy has, indeed, been breathtaking.

Comment by: Denis
Posted: 22/03/2015 08:05:15

There seems to be a very un-Christian gloating over the downfall of Cardinal O'Brien. Whilst what he did was obviously very wrong his victims were adults and chose for their own reasons to withhold what they knew about the Cardinal for thirty years. I wonder why?

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