Should disgraced Cardinal O'Brien be exiled or pardoned?
At the very least, he has some explaining to do
(Picture: Herald Scotland)
- Elena Curti for The Tablet
- United Kingdom
- May 13, 2013
The return of Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien to Scotland has for many Catholics rubbed salt into the wound, two months after his admission of sexual misdemeanours and abrupt departure from office weeks before reaching the official retirement age of 75. According to this narrative, the cardinal heaped scandal on the Scottish Church and the best thing he could do now is to disappear without trace. After all the hurt and embarrassment he has caused, it is easy to understand why some might resent the cardinal continuing with his plans to retire quietly to a church-owned house in the East Lothian seaside town of Dunbar.
It has been reported that the Vatican itself has told the cardinal to leave Scotland and that 'church leaders' want him to stay out of public life. However, Bishop Stephen Robson, an auxiliary of St Andrews and Edinburgh, has told The Tablet that the Church has a duty of care to Cardinal O'Brien and that he will be treated in the same way as all other retired priests.
Some loyal friends of the cardinal are nevertheless fearful that there may be an attempt to force him into exile. His parish priest in Dunbar, Fr John Creanor - who studied for the priesthood alongside Cardinal O'Brien - has threatened legal action against any attempt to force him out of Scotland. His parishioners have started a petition urging the cardinal to stay.
The complaints of sexual advances from four serving priests and another who has stood down from ministry have overshadowed the cardinal's record as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. Apart from overblown and insensitive remarks on moral issues - most memorably on gay marriage - he was known for his kindness and won admiration for his many overseas visits to developing countries for the Scottish Catholic aid agency, Sciaf. The cardinal has now let it be known that he wants to put the scandal behind him and that the Church should help him to do that. 'If Christianity is about anything at all, it's about forgiveness. That's what I have to do as a cardinal priest - just forgive the wrongdoer and help them go back on to the right path again,' he reportedly told the Scottish Sun.
One could have sympathy with this plea, but at the moment too many questions remain unanswered. He has admitted there had been times when, his sexual conduct fell 'below the standards expected of [him] as a priest, archbishop and cardinal'. It is unclear whether these were momentary lapses or whether he was leading a double life throughout his career in the Church. We do not know whether he habitually attempted to seduce young priests and seminarians or whether he had mature, consensual relationships with other men. It has been claimed that his sexual misconduct affected his governance of the archdiocese and that a culture of cronyism prevailed with power concentrated within a circle of 'friends'.
This is a serious charge that the cardinal needs to address.
Of course to err is human, and Christianity is about forgiveness - but he owes us all an explanation.
Source: The Tablet