Cardinal Keith O’Brien Faces Vatican Inquiry After Scandal Admission

The Cardinal Keith O’Brien gay sex scandal rumbles on unabated, but as I ate my breakfast this morning, I was greeted by the news that the Cardinal has now essentially admitted to the allegations made by three priests and a former priest last week. While it’s not unusual for priests to admit to these things, I would say that most tend to deny such allegations, especially at the beginning. I should be careful at this point and say that O’Brien hasn’t actually admitted to anything specific. The key section in his statement this morning is this:

Cardinal Keith O’Brien (via The Guardian)

I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal. To those I have offended I apologise and ask forgiveness. To the Catholic church and people of Scotland, I also apologise. I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic church in Scotland.

Given the almost monthly sex abuse stories that have found their way out of the church over the last couple of years, I would say his standards are right on the level. His statement does make for uncomfortable reading for several senior Scottish Catholics who for the past week have been downplaying the allegations and engaging in the church’s most skilled practice of damage limitation. Some had sought to rally around the Cardinal and branded the accusations as unsubstantiated, non-specific, and anonymous. Indeed, when the Observer first broke the story last week and contacted the Cardinal, his office warned the Observer it faced legal action over its decision to run the story.

There is some suggestion that the reason for the Vatican acting so quickly last week was not because it wants to deal more decisively with such cases or indeed the need for a decision before Pope Benedict left office. Two days before the abuse story broke, O’Brien gave a BBC interview in which he suggested that priests ought to be allowed to marry and have children. Catherine Pepinster, editor of the weekly Catholic newspaper the Tablet, said Benedict and his close aides may have been extremely irritated because O’Brien had promised to renounce his once liberal views on some church teachings when he became a Cardinal in 2003. On becoming a Cardinal the Vatican had made him swear an oath to uphold the teachings of the church, binding him to uphold its orthodox positions.

I have to say I expected this story to really drag on and on. There are plenty of cases where priests, having to deal with this kind of allegation, have sought to contest the accusations of their victims only to later admit to them. That process normally takes months not days. Despite not going into specifics, which of course no one would expect, the Cardinal’s statement is certainly the most frank and open admission I’ve ever seen by a priest in this situation. On the one hand the breaking of silence on the Cardinal’s part will stop some of rumor and speculation surrounding the story, but on the other it will only intensify around the specifics. In many ways the statement leaves more questions than answers. How long as such behavior been going on? Are the pressures of his dual life the root cause of his extreme denouncements (even for a Catholic) of equality and gay marriage?

He is now expected to face a full Vatican enquiry. Just how that will work, who will conduct it, and when it might happen remains up the air while we are without a Pope.

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.


  • wok

    Ooh, scary, a Vatican enquiry! I wonder what they’ll do to him… shuffle him under a rug, or shift him to a different church maybe?

    Maybe they’ll even take his silly hat and robe away.

    Fear the power of the Vatican enquiry. (Although to be fair, they are pretty good at defending child molesters.)

  • Dennis Blankenship

    I’m frankly disappointed at the level of triumphant glee expressed by a number of atheist bloggers and commenters at this story. Homosexual behavior among consenting adults is, in most places, which includes Scotland, legal. Unlike the priests who abused children, and the higher-ups who sheltered them, this priest has apparently not done anything illegal, and his right to engage in this behavior would normally be championed by this community were he not a catholic priest. Criticize him all you want for his hypocrisy, especially if there’s a history of him making public statements denouncing homosexuality. I would hope that this community would show compassion for him, and invite him to gingerly step out of the closet, leaving the church in his wake.

  • Drakk

    “my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”

    That’s saying a lot, given what we can reasonably expect from a catholic priest.

  • MD

    From what I have read in the news, the problem is not that he had homosexual relationships but that he sexually harassed seminarians and lower ranking priests. The RCC is a rigidly hierarchical entity. A seminarian is at the bottom rung of the clergy, and having a visiting priest or (worse) a bishop pressure you for sex is akin to a military cadet being propositioned by a captain. Do you want a job in the church? Then shut up and put out.

    Then the Cardinal apparently used his ranks to try to bury the accusations.

  • PhysicsPhDStu

    His was *not* a consensual sexual relationship. Sexual harassment at workplace by a superior is definitely illegal.

  • Daniel_JM

    You certainly have a bizzare definition of consent.

    No, most of us in the atheist community aren’t accepting of allegations of a superior sexually assaulting those under him. Perhaps that surprises you, but it shouldn’t.

  • Randomfactor

    It’s really a shame the Church has apparently given up the concept of “anchorites.”

    “For the love of God, Montressor…”

  • C Peterson

    Nobody here is criticizing him for his apparent homosexuality. I don’t think anybody except his fellow Catholics are doing that. The rational criticism is on two fronts- the hypocrisy exposed by his behavior, and what amounts to sexual abuse given the power differential between himself and his accusers.

    If some of that criticism is also “gleeful”, well, why shouldn’t it be? It is stories like this that are contributing to the decline of the Catholic Church, which is surely a trend that merits a bit of glee.

  • The Other Weirdo

    What does a disgusting pizza condiment have to do with this?

  • Golfie98

    “my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest”

    I thought he wasn’t supposed to be engaging in any sexual conduct not that he had a particular standard to achieve.

  • chicago dyke

    one of my favorite authors wrote a book about that. an albino woman, in the middle ages, is brought to the Pope for judging. because they want to know if her red eyes are “holy” or “satanic.” a friend helps her not get burned using his influence and money, but she ends up being sentenced to an anchorite monastery/nunnery deal.

    in the end, cruel nuns whip her to death. it’s a very realistic book, for fiction.

  • Dennis Blankenship

    I haven’t closely followed the fall of cardinal O’Brien, as I am not particularly interested in gay sex as a scandal. On the other hand, sexual harrassment is a problem – regardless of the genders or orientations of the victims – and my curiosity is piqued. For those of you who corrected my base assumption on this – consenting adults – I thank you.

    I would be interested to find out if the scandal was reported up the chain of command, and if it was handled like the child abuse cases were (“duck and cover”).

  • rich_bown

    It always amazes me that the one church who is obsessed with sex has sex scandal after scandal, and never once do they consider that their dogma to repress natural sexual behaviour has anything to do with it?

  • Rich Wilson

    For anyone new to this story, let’s not forget his views on same sex marriage:

    When he breaks off talks with the Scottish government over same-sex marriage, as he did on Sunday, compares the reform to the re-introduction of slavery, condemns it as “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”

    Look up ‘hypocrite’ in the dictionary, and there’s O’Brien.

  • trj

    It’s the same reason they (and many other kinds of Christians) will rail against contraception and insist on sexual abstinence instead. It could theoretically work, so they’ll cling to it even though all available statistics shows it to fail miserably.

    Of course, by clinging obstinately to their sexually repressive tenets they introduce a lot of needless hurt, but human suffering has always been less important to them than religious dogma, no matter how unrealistic its achievement is.

  • Sean Keeney

    He’s not admitted anything.

    He’s avoided the original accusations, whilst alluding to others. I don’t know about you, but if i’d have raped someone i’d know about it; to have 4 accusers and not to admit they were the ones i’d done would be admitting i’d raped other.

    The man is disgusting, as is the church. You need to go on their websites to see how they’re blaming it all on the homosexuals, it would be hiliarious if it wasn’t so dangerous.

  • Sean Keeney

    “sexual conduct” had fallen below the right standards “as a priest, an archbishop and a cardinal”
    I didn’t think ANY sexual conduct was right for a Catholic Cardinal?!

  • Sean Keeney

    “sexual conduct” had fallen below the right standards “as a priest, an archbishop and a cardinal”
    I didn’t think ANY sexual conduct was right for a Catholic Cardinal?!

  • baal

    I love fishy pizza!*

    *not in a RCC priest way.

  • baal

    While I’m dreaming of a better tomorrow, he could just leave the church and take up regular dating with consensual partners. In another better future, he’d get a day in court to defend the harassment charges. In an utter looney better day, he’d renounce the RCC in a big way and write a tell all book on how he protected abusing priests at the Pope’s direction.

  • 7Footpiper

    I read an article in one of the UK papers (sorry, can’t find it now) that stated that he became a Cardinal based on an agreement that he would toe the church line on things relating to abortion, birth control and the scary homos. While I don’t condone his actions against his four accusers and can understand his desire to better his professional standing, I would like to see an apology for all of those he’s railed against and the misery he’s tried and no doubt succeeded in causing in the lives of those who feel that they are fulfilling their sexual identity in a loving way.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    Quite so, though there is the part where suffering is considered a good thing. That suffer in this life for a sure ticket to heaven once you’re dead routine. Mother Teresa got some flack for implementing the concept on the poor in India.

  • allein

    What’s the book?

  • emmet

    Those “available statistics” are available where?

  • pagansister

    How many more will be crawling out of the woodwork, I wonder?

  • trj