05Mar 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?

29 Responses

  1. Elizabeth

    Everyone has failings but most people don’t claim to represent God, those who do must live to a higher standard. They should also try, like everyone else, to have integrity because without that we are nothing.

  2. Mary O Vallely

    Ok I can understand that we’re all in defence mode a bit.It is heartbreaking to imagine the suffering of Keith Cardinal O’Brien but we mustn’t forget that words he uttered many times in the past caused huge hurt to those of same sex orientation. We mustn’t forget the men who suffered abuse either, of course. Thank God his true self is emerging. It must have been hard to have projected a false self for so long and I do believe that he will be a happier man, given time and the strength of all our prayers and his.
    This issue should hopefully open up a debate towards encouraging a new and healthier attitude to sexuality, a better understanding and tolerance of all those many, many people who just happen not to be heterosexual. My heart also goes out to Keith. I admire the man for the great good that he has done in speaking out against poverty, for instance, as well as the stance he took on Megrahi, mentioned above. He is well loved and rightly so, by many of his parishoners who are also suffering deeply.
    There is a cleansing going on, painful but necessary and hope is in the air, hope of a new, more compassionate, loving and tolerant people of God. After this initial nightmare I am sure Keith O’Brien will waken up to a feeling of freedom he probably never had before. He and those who suffer are in all our prayers.
    Mary V

  3. Anne Walsh

    Well balance when a fire is blazing is always hard to find…even, or maybe particularly, among journalists!!
    I note some of our ‘Catholic’ ones seem to suggest it’s easier to accept the misdemeanor than it is the hypocrisy.!
    Maybe it is ??
    But I would hope, when we reach the gates of heaven, there won’t be the same distinctions used.
    Oh God of compassion, let us see your face in all we say and do.

  4. GeorgeW

    “Let him without sin cast the first stone” That Keith O’Brien has been reckless is without doubt. However, when we examine our own consciences who will not be found wanting? Who hasn’t got a skeleton in the cupboard somewhere? The night you drove home without remembering how you managed it; the married woman you propositioned after drinking too much. Thanks to a merciful and forgiving Creator, these things recede into the past and we are able to move on. Cardinal O’Brien hasn’t been so fortunate. So whilst I don’t deny that his behaviour has been hypocritical, he is paying and will continue to pay.
    “Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
    ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
    But he that filches from me my good name
    Robs me of that which not enriches him,
    And makes me poor indeed” (Shakespeare’s Iago)
    Poor Cardinal O’Brien. His good name is gone. Was it taken or did he throw it away? Say a prayer for him and for those he has hurt.

  5. L Macari

    I agree with your article. We RCs are supposed to believe in the forgiveness of sins. Yes he did things which were wrong but there seems to be a hidden agenda on the part of the detractors too. And the least said about the media the better.

    I believe there is a serious problem in the Vatican with regard to sins of this nature. Perhaps it is too easy to confess and receive absolution.

    I do not know Cardinal O’Brien well but travelled with him to a conference a couple of years ago and though him a humble person who had no airs and graces unlike some of his brethern at the same conference.

    It is sad that he did the things he has confessed in public and it is even sadder that everyone seems to be trying to stick the knife in.


  6. Eddie Finnegan

    Thanks, Paddy & Tony, for that piece.
    To add another balancing stone or two to Keith O’Brien’s cairn, some of you may recall a heartfelt post from Fr Steve Gilhooley (now at Our Lady of Faith English Language Catholic Mission in Lausanne) about eighteen months ago. Steve’s interesting ‘back story’ has two or three very positive walk-on parts for Keith O’Brien – his relationship with his priests, with Rome, and with Tommy Sheridan and his causes.
    2001: http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/aberdeen/sins-of-the-fathers-as-a-boy-he-was-abused-by-the-men-who-were-preparing-him-for-the-priesthood
    ‘Act of Faith’ (July 2005): http://www.scotsman.com/news/act-of-faith-1-1391962
    ‘Confessions of Priest Who Went to Roam’ (2006): http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news/2006/09_10_06_Gilhooley_ConfessionsOf.htm
    ‘On Prayer and Paedophilia’ (2011): https://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2011/09/on-prayer-and-paedophilia/
    The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.
    [just as providing internet links is rarely simple either – but by Googling ‘Fr Steve Gilhooley’ you’ll get to most of these stories.]

  7. Raymond Hickey Bordine

    Surely his mum must still love him! I have yet to meet the person about whom nothing good could be said. This issue really is about much more than this single individual, Cardinal O’Brien. The issue, dear people of the RCC, is about the phoniness of our church. Everyone agrees that no one is perfect. This current crisis is not about the lack of perfection in humanity. It is about the false hypothesis of human sexuality that forms so much of the foundation of moral doctrine in the RCC.

    Let’s not lose sight of the elephant in the room by focusing on this particular Cardinal. These ‘incidents of inappropriate behavior’ are surfacing in every Catholic diocese throughout the world. Obviously, folks, the Catholic Church has some very serious reformation to undergo if it is to survive as a credible institution. By all standards of modern scholarship in every field of scientific and social science, it is as Cardinal Montini said on his deathbed in Milan, “the church is at least 200 years behind the times! It needs to enter the modern world and leave the Middle Ages!”

    So, rather than be diverted by all the corollary issues about what is legal and what is moral, what is gay and what is straight, what is appropriate and what is inappropriate, let us instead focus on the fact that young people were and are being sexually abused by clerics of every rank. Clearly we can all agree that when a person takes advantage of his secular or religious position in society to sexually abuse another, THAT IS WRONG. Using euphemisms like ‘fumbling’, ‘groping’, ‘drunken reaching’ don’t change sexual abuse into something positive. It makes no difference if these actions were done by a novice or a Pope, THEY ARE WRONG.

    All the personal punishment or disciplinary action that can be executed upon these offenders is NOT going to change the underlying cause which is the dysfunctional understanding of human sexuality endorsed by the RCC. The Catholic Church needs to open its collective mind and study the research and scholarly material available today so that it can have rational, educated, and meaningful understanding commensurate with the modern world in which we all live.

    Secrets are a cancer that grow along with silence, guilt, and shame. This church prides itself, even today with the upcoming election of a new Pope, in its secrecy, as if secrecy were a good thing. All of its sexual abuse was shrouded in secrecy, all of its abusers were shielded from the light, its leaders hiding their secrets.

    Pope John XXIII told us 50 years ago to yank open those windows, haul up those shades and let the sun shine in! But when you are guilty and shameful, you want to keep your secrets hidden. So, the next two Popes after John clamped everything down again out of fear of what the sun would reveal inside.

    So much damage has been done to the Body of Christ, let us reform. Help heal those who have been so violated by their spiritual advisors, help change the structure and policy of the church so that this abuse can be ended. Now is the time, now is the hour for a new Pope in allegiance with the People of God to return this RCC to Jesus, the Christ. So much damage, so many secrets, so little light! God help us!

  8. Sarah

    English newspapers love scandal – that is why we call it the gutter press. It is not that they are anti catholic – it is that they a pro scandal. I feel sorry for O’Brien ( I also felt sorry for Saddam Hussein when he was caught) BUT I am also bl**dy annoyed with him. He has made an idiot out of every practising catholic. How the hell did he think he could get away with it! If the Catholic Church is all dark politics behind the scenes – I’d rather paddle my own canoe – I have better people to mix with

  9. Robert Burnett

    I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Catherine Devaney for the way in which she has dealt with reporting the story and in presenting the case on both radio and TV. She strikes me as a woman of integrity who does not deserve the cheap”Scoop of the Year’ comment. She has been the voice of those who until now have felt that they did not have a voice. Surely both she and the men who have spoken out should be commended not castigated. Let us not try and find a convenient conspiracy theory for why the allegations came out at this time but see it as a blessing. A blessing because the institutional Church does have a long and established record of not only denying but of deliberately covering up anything that they perceive of as causing scandal. Possibly we can now build a church in which those who suffer abuse do not have to carry the pain of such abuse for so long.

  10. Gerry

    Poor, poor St Keith O’Brien.
    If the media would just keep quiet.
    It could still all be a secret.
    And Scotland could have a vote for the next Pope.
    Those pesky media!!

  11. Eddie Finnegan

    @9: Now Gerry, pay attention and try not to be so damned silly! Nobody here, or in the piece we’re commenting on, is out to canonise Keith O’Brien. That’s more than clear. Seeking balance doesn’t mean we’re not as truth-seeking as that great arbiter of TRUTH, Papal Knight Rupe Murdoch’s The Sun. (Was it £1million he paid the English Catholic Church for his private audience with Benedict in 2010?)
    @7: Sarah, don’t label all English papers as ‘scandal loving gutter press’. The Observer, where the story broke, isn’t.

  12. Jerry Slevin

    An interesting aspect of the Vatican’s selective sacking of Cardinal O’Brien and shaming of Cardinal Mahony is the lack of due process. While as a Catholic, I have no use for either of them, as a lawyer, it strikes me Cardinals are now being denied due process, a procedural failure that had previously been reserved for “mere priests” like Tony Flannery and Hans Kung. This is affecting power dynamics at the Conclave surely.

    For an explanation, please see my, “Conclave For Next Pope May Be A Fatal Farce Unless … “, at: http://wp.me/P2YEZ3-DK

  13. Veritas

    The atheist blogger Brendan O’Neill had a brilliant article in the Telegraph in which he points out the hypocricy of those attacking the Cardinal. I dare say if all of our private lives were thrown open to scrutiny, no one would be squeaky clean. I certainly would’nt. Certain elements of the homosexual lobby have’nt covered themselves in glory by effectively ” dancing on the Cardinals grave “. I think he apologised for a remark he made, which may have caused offense, but his opposition to homosexual marriage as such is commendable.

  14. Eddie Finnegan

    Now it’s Jerry with a J again. Funny how he never tires of recycling his own “analyses”. Real shame he never learned to tweet. 140 Characters in Search of a Harvard “schooled” Catholic Lawyer.

  15. Jerry Slevin

    Eddie, now that you can read 140 characters at a clip, tomorrow, try 141 characters, etc… Eventually, I am sure you will be able to master whole paragraphs.

    Your evasionary remarks help me, though, better understand how Irish clerics got away for so long treating all Irish Catholics as children and/or sheep. Pity, really. My Donegal parents wouldn’t have believed what happened to the wonderful Irish Church they left behind in 1930.

  16. Eddie Finnegan

    Right Jerry. My Armagh parents shoulda sent us to Harvard if they hadn’t seen how dumb we were. But then they must have been pretty dumb themselves, downtrodden by the jackboot of clericalism. Jerry, you’ll be back for the Gathering, I suppose?



  18. Joe O'Leary

    I’m with George W. on this.

    Mr Slevin, he was not “sacked”. Here is what the Pope said: “The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has accepted on the 18 February 2013 the resignation of His Eminence Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien from the pastoral governance of the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh. This information will be announced and published in the Osservatore Romano of Monday 25 February 2013. The cardinal had already presented last November his resignation in view of his 75th birthday on 17 March 2013, and it was accepted by the Holy Father with the formula “nunc pro tunc” (now for later). Given the imminent vacant see, the Holy Father has now decided to accept the said resignation definitively.”

  19. Joe O'Leary

    A whole sheaf of commentary here: http://bilgrimage.blogspot.fr/2013/03/ongoing-discussion-of-cardinal-obrien.html#more

  20. Nuala O'Driscoll

    Popes, Cardinals, Bishops and Priests all celibate, defending each other, they just don’t get it! ‘they tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders’ they set the high moral standards, banning contraception to married couples, refusing communion to people in second relationships, ‘you hypocrites, You shut up the kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces….’ (matt: 23)I suggest you read the whole chapter.

  21. Gerry

    Nuala – I so agree.

  22. Teresa Mee

    My focus has shifted on to the responses to the Keith O’Brien revelations

    Kenneth Roy’s 4th paragraph looks like groping for porn, and a strong impulse to violence.
    Teresa Mee

  23. Lynne Newington

    I would have thought, deep down he would be relieved this yoke was finally removed from around his neck.
    Usually it’s the sentencing judge, especially when the church has fought tooth and nail to have the charges dispproved with a bottomless pit of finances to engage the best QC’s.
    A little like Peter being reprimanded by Jesus.

  24. Seamus Ahearne osa

    Les Miserables.

    Les Miserables the Show and now the Film is familiar to most of us; we know the songs and the sound dances, in our heads. The Film is quite powerful. The cinema has become an ideal venue for many women who like to let the tears flow! God help the staff!

    The Film is a feast of movement, song and drama. The Music is beautiful. The theme of Redemption runs through the Film. Can people change? Can wrong-doers (whatever; whoever that is) turn around their lives? Does love really win out in the end? Is humility essential in the Christian? The AA uses the slogan: There are no hopeless cases. Can we dare to believe this? (The whiskey priest in Graham Greene’s – The Power and the Glory tells another such story) We also know that some people are so certain in what is the ‘right thing’ (like Javert) that they are very intolerable and inflexible. Such rigidity is too often present in Church life.

    Jean Valjean is impressive. Fantine is marvellous. Cosette is beautiful. The sprinkling of little characters too, is touching. If you haven’t seen it; do go along. And remember – it isn’t a Film just to entertain; it is a Story of Life. The Themes occur around us and among us and within us, everyday. We too play a role in that Film if we can be aware of it.

    I wonder can it say anything to us about the Prodigal Father or Prodigal Son (of this weekend) ? Can it speak to us of Keith O’Brien or many others or most of us? Keith was a fine man and a fine Bishop whatever has happened in recent times. (I know him – I lived and worked in Edinburgh) He brought heart and warmth and fun to faith. He would go anywhere and do anything for anyone. He got somewhat strident in recent years when he got the Red Hat – I told him at the time; that he had sold out! However, he always exuded the Good News of Faith and the real warmth of humanity. In many ways I am sorry that such a man is missing in Rome at present. (I know the right thing is happening but still!) He is a Non-Roman (which matters). He is a rich human being. Clay feet and Achilles heels are very much part of real people. I too live in a parish where Mick Cleary is remembered fondly.

    Seamus Ahearne osa

  25. Darlene Starrs

    Yes, Elizabeth, first commentator, St. Paul says, LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF YOUR VOCATION! I believe, he meant it…..

  26. Lynne Newington

    I’m sure Mick Cleary is remembered fondly, he used a vulnerable woman for years, she bore him two sons, forced her to relinquish one, refused to publicly acknowledge them and died a hero.
    Some epitaph!
    Eamom Casey was no better.

  27. Margaret Lee

    Oh dear! I am in the process of reading “Gaudium et Spes”. It stresses that only God can judge us. Given some of the comments on Keith O’Brien, I am relieved that this is so.

  28. Mícheál

    When trying to pray, I have sometimes used the Johannine text “This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. ”

    I ak myself, as I contemplete this scene, who am I most like : the woman in her shame and fear, her partner skulking on the edgenof the crowd but out of her sight, those in the crowd baying for blood, the silent ones who did not speak knowing their own similarity, the Christ who alone saw her heart, the disinterested passers-by who dismissed it just another religious spat. I wish I were like the Christ, but most often I am either one of the silent ones or one of those baying for blood. I often wonder what I would read in what the Christ wrote on the ground. Perhaps if ours sins were written on our foreheads we would all spend more time hiding our faces. My name is legion. My name is Keith. I am not the Christ.

  29. Lynne Newington

    Michael, we always read about the woman caught in sin and Jesus’s writing in the sand, and whatever it was, it certainly made the accusers skulk away one by one.
    One of these days someone else will draw the connection to the skulking away of the high priests and what was written by our Lord on that day, in all probability their own names.

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