Cardinal Keith O’Brien Resigns After Allegations of Inappropriate Behavior

February has been a strange month for the Catholic Church. While those enthralled by the bubble that is the Vatican are still reeling after the Pope’s resignation, today, the most senior Catholic in Britain has been forced to step down amid allegations of “inappropriate behavior” dating back to the 1980s. 

Cardinal Keith O’Brien (current holder of Stonewall’s ‘Bigot of the Year’ award) has been the Archbishop of St Andrews since 1985 and a Cardinal since 2003. He was due to step down from his post in March due to his age, but the Pope has now requested he leave early.

Cardinal O’Brien (left) with Pope Benedict XVI (via www.catholic-ew.org.uk)

O’Brien has a repuation of being quite conservative, even for a Catholic, and often speaks out against gay marriage. After the Scottish government outlined plans last year to legalize gay marriage, he described it as “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.” In 2008, he described a Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill as a step towards “Nazi-style experiments.” In 2007, he courted controversy in the abortion debate, claiming that Scotland’s abortion rate was “two Dunblane massacres a day.” Dunblane is a small town in Scotland made infamous by a school shooting in 1996 in which 16 children under the age of 6 and one teacher lost their lives. Imagine an American religious leader comparing abortion to a whole bunch of “Newtown shootings” and you begin to understand the level of insensitivity and false analogy we’re dealing with here.

The story this weekend has moved pretty quickly. The news was first reported on Saturday that three priests and a former priest from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh complained to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain, to make a series of allegations against the Cardinal. It is believed that at least part of the complaint alleges that the Cardinal developed an inappropriate relationship with one of the priests, resulting in a need for long-term psychological counseling. The questions grew louder when the Cardinal failed to lead mass on Sunday, and today it has been confirmed he has stepped down.

Each priest is alleging separate inappropriate incidents in their individual statements. For legal reasons they have not been identified, but the Guardian carried an interview with one of the ex-priests over the weekend. He alleges that while a 20-year-old seminarian at St Andrew’s College, Drygrange, Cardinal O’Brien made an inappropriate approach after night prayers. The former priest was ordained, but in his statement he explained that he resigned when O’Brien was promoted to bishop:

I knew then he would always have power over me. It was assumed I left the priesthood to get married. I did not. I left to preserve my integrity.

In separate statements from current priests, Priest A describes being happily settled in a parish when he claims he was visited by O’Brien and inappropriate contact between the two took place. Priest B claims that he was starting his ministry in the 1980s when he was invited to spend a week “getting to know” O’Brien at the archbishop’s residence. His statement alleges that he found himself dealing with what he describes as unwanted behavior by the Cardinal after a late-night drinking session. Priest C’s statement claims that O’Brien used night prayers as an excuse for inappropriate contact. The priest was a young man being counseled by the Cardinal over personal problems.

The former priest offered an explaination as to why it has taken so long for all four to come forward:

You have to understand, the relationship between a bishop and a priest. At your ordination, you take a vow to be obedient to him. He’s more than your boss, more than the CEO of your company. He has immense power over you. He can move you, freeze you out, bring you into the fold… he controls every aspect of your life. You can’t just kick him in the balls.

The timing is odd but it’s probably the last chance the claimants will get to see the Cardinal, since he has already resigned his post as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh due to his age. For some reason, the moment a Cardinal turns 75, they are required to tender their resignation to the Pope, which is always accepted. I doubt it will be too long before this rule gets revisited in light of an aging population in general and more significantly a complete lack of a younger generation of priests.

There is some indication that the four claimants believe that if the Cardinal traveled to Rome to take part in the election of a new Pope, then the church will simply close ranks and not address their complaints. Indeed, one of the priests suggested that:

It tends to cover up and protect the system at all costs. The church is beautiful, but it has a dark side and that has to do with accountability. If the system is to be improved, maybe it needs to be dismantled a bit.

I’m not sure about dismantled. More like disbanded.

About Mark Turner

Mark Turner was born and raised as a Catholic in the North East of England, UK. He attended two Catholic schools between the ages of five and sixteen. A product of a moderate Catholic upbringing and an early passion for science first resulted in religious apathy and by mid-teens outright disbelief.

@markdturner

  • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Felyx Leiter

    “After the Scottish government outlined plans last year to legalize gay marriage, he described it as ‘a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.’”

    It’s a “grotesque subversion” of a fundamental human right by extending said right to all humans? I’m not sure if I should laugh or shake my head and cry at the idiocy.
    What an asshole.

  • TiltedHorizon

    “He’s more than your boss, more than the CEO of your company. He has immense power over you. He can move you, freeze you out, bring you into the fold … he controls every aspect of your life. You can’t just kick him in the balls.”

    30 years of abuse and betrayal by a man who is expected to be the pillar of morality. All while peddling judgement and guilt on others. No, you can’t just “kick him in the balls”, you have to kick those ball repeatably, O’Brien and everyone else who willfully turned a blind eye.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    According to a radio report that I heard this morning, O’Brien actually resigned some time ago, but his resignation was not accepted until today.

    • http://twitter.com/markdturner Mark Turner

      What basically happen as far as the resignation goes is that he resigned at the back end of last year due to his impending 75th birthday next month. He was due to go on the 17th of March, but after all this came out the Pope kicked him out early. I have no idea why you have to resign at 75, like most things Catholic it seems to be plucked out of thin air.

  • Claude

    We could start a pool on how many cardinals will drop out of the conclave in disgrace.

    Mahony had the audacity to RSVP Yes.

    A senior Vatican official called Cardinal Roger Mahony’s participation in the selection of the next pope “troubling.” LA Times

    • Randay

      A higher number might be better than a lower one as the Italian press has exposed a conclave of cardinals and bishops having homosexual relations and orgies. I even saw extracts of two different home-made videos on French TV News. Of course certain body parts were pixilated. What U.S. TV News program is going to show that?

      • TicklishMeerkat

        I don’t know, but I bet it’d be on Cinemax.

  • The Other Weirdo

    So he sat at the right hand of Emperor Palpatine. That can’t make him all that bad, can it? :) Wait! Wasn’t that Darth Vader?

    • Whirlwound

      Hey Luke! See you? Ah’m yere father, so I am.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Didn’t Paul say that a bishop had to be of upstanding character and absolutely above reproach?

    • Randay

      And wasn’t Paul queerer than a three dollar bill?

  • pagansister

    And another one bites the dust—if this keeps up maybe there won’t be anymore Cardinals—and the whole RCC will “fall down”. . Like that is ever going to happen—-sorry SOB’s are just so smug. I’ll bet the good cardinal gets taken care of by the Church for the rest of his miserable life…..even after his “disgraceful” exit.

  • GeraardSpergen

    He resigned as archbishop of Edinburgh; but he’s still a cardinal, still gets a nice retirement package.

  • Guest

    I was half expecting this to be about ordination of women or something like that. It is pretty rate for anyone in the Catholic church to get kicked out for abusing their authority.

  • TheBlackCat13

    I was half expecting this to be about ordination of women or
    something. Firing anyone in the church for real abuses of authority is
    exceedingly rare.

  • kev_s

    He adds the title of ‘Hypocrite of the year’ to his previous title of ‘Bigot of the year’. Way to go man!

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    And to that I say good riddance!

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    And to that I say good riddance!

  • Little Magpie

    “Imagine an American religious leader comparing abortion to a whole bunch
    of “Newtown shootings” and you begin to understand the level of
    insensitivity and false analogy we’re dealing with here.”

    Actually, if nobody in the US religious anti-abortion subculture has said this yet … I’d be pleasantly surprised.

  • Miss_Beara

    “Universally accepted human right…”

    except for the gays. those horrible gays who are in a relationship, some for decades, and just want to get married. I guess his use of the word universal means straight folks.

  • KeithCollyer

    so let ,e get this straight. you bugger children and you get moved or promoted. you fail to bugger adults and you get sacked. I can see how that would work as moral guidance

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    “inappropriate”

    Somehow using such an opaque euphemism in place of the frank term “homosexual” makes the reports of O’Brien’s behavior vulgar instead of simply descriptive.

    I’m sure that whatever euphemisms the Vatican will use in place of “liar,” “hypocrite,” “exploitation,” and “predator” will make further reports all the more infuriating.


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