Unholy consensus against Cardinal O’Brien must arouse suspicion
Is there anything good to say about Cardinal O’Brien’s tenure on this earth? He will celebrate, if that’s the word, his 75th birthday a week on Sunday. Serial killers have had a slightly better press.
It is almost impossible to find a kind ungrudging word about him after yesterday’s ‘shock confession’, which must have been a shock only to those headline writers who have spent the last week with a bag over their heads.
The Sun believes that he has failed to address ‘the specific allegations’ of his four accusers. ‘He stands disgraced. He has no reputation left. If he still has any shred of decency, he must tell the whole truth.’ The Scotsman agrees that his apology ‘falls short of a real confession’.
Yes, we must have more: there must be a full account of each kiss, each grope, each fumble on the road to redemption, for the interests of transparency demand no less. I have an idea for tomorrow’s editorials in these newspapers: let’s have him dragged through the streets of Edinburgh in sackcloth and ashes. There might even be a case for reintroducing the stocks and allowing the pelting of rotten eggs.
The editorials pretty well finish him off. But they are not quite enough: to the high pitch of moral indignation on the leader pages we must add the heady brew of the unforgiving commentariat, providing an ethical perspective to what passes these days for the news pages.
Again there is complete unanimity.
Tom Brown in his 300-word ‘Analysis’ in the Daily Record reminds readers that the cardinal is the current ‘Bigot of the Year’ for his views on gay marriage. Mr Brown adds that Cardinal O’Brien should not be surprised if he is now named ‘Hypocrite of the Year’. I was unaware that such a title existed, but the list of potential winners will indeed be an extensive one. From the Palace of Westminster alone there should be dozens of credible nominations. The cardinal is by no means a shoo-in.
Professor Tom Devine has switched camps. Last week, when the scandal broke, he was to be found in the Daily Telegraph challenging the cardinal’s four accusers to step forward – from this I assumed, perhaps mistakenly, that he meant step forward from the shadows of anonymity. Today he has moved to a page 2 ‘Comment’ slot in the Herald only slightly longer than the Record‘s ‘Analysis’. Professor Devine no longer has any suspicions about the motives of the four accusers. On the contrary, ‘the faithful in Scotland owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the priests and former priest who had the personal courage to bring all of this into the public domain. The pain caused by the episode will be profound, but better that than concealing the truth’.
Oh, gosh, and there he is in the Scotsman too – a page 5 ‘Analysis’ of roughly the same length as his ‘Comment’ in the Herald, which ends: ‘The pain will be profound, but better that than concealing the truth’. Readers in both the west and east of Scotland now know that the pain will be profound: there is no remaining doubt about the degree of pain inflicted.
And there is much more in this vein: hurt, anger, betrayal, disgrace. It’s a morning for the big words, the huge emotions. And the story isn’t dead. Good heavens, no. Catherine Deveney’s exposé in the Observer always had the feel of a good old-fashioned two-parter; and so it turned out. But it wouldn’t be astonishing if she had a part 3 up her sleeve and maybe a part 4 for the old guy’s birthday, if he lives that long. Dickens taught his fellow journalists the value of running stuff in instalments.
May I be the first to nominate Ms Deveney for ‘Scoop of the Year’? It will sit nicely alongside ‘Hypocrite of the Year’ for Cardinal O’Brien.
Still, there are many sound historical precedents for being instinctively suspicious of the sort of unholy consensus we have in the Scottish media today. I’ve never much liked the consensus: it so often tells a half-truth. So I intend to say a kind ungrudging word about Cardinal O’Brien, a man I’ve never met.
He and I shared a common interest in the case of Megrahi, who was convicted – probably wrongly – of the murder of 270 people at Lockerbie. We both signed a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for the conviction to be re-visited and for a public inquiry to be instigated into the scandalous state of the evidence against Megrahi. It was not one of the more popular petitions ever submitted to the parliament. I seem to remember that it was signed by about 1,200 people, very few of whom were public figures.
Many who privately harboured doubts about the safety of the conviction preferred, in the Scottish manner, to keep their heads under the parapet. Keith O’Brien stuck his above it. I admired him for it. I thought it was the action of a brave and principled person. That does not make him any less of a hypocrite in his sexual conduct. But then we are all such a mass of contradictions. Only the journalists are squeaky clean. What’s new?