21 March 2015
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.
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