The Cardinal O'Brien scandal was a wildly successful hit job
The timing of the revelation about homosexual allegations against the cardinal was brought forward for maximum impact.
- Damian Thompson
- United Kingdom
- February 27, 2013
The Cardinal Keith O'Brien Downfall video had been ready to run for ages. The story of three priests and one ex-priest complaining of inappropriate behaviour was timed to break when the Scottish prelate retired at 75 next month. The aim was to expose his alleged hypocrisy.
To quote our blogger Stephen Hough, responding in the comments to his blog post yesterday, "I'm convinced that what he did (if he did it) was harmless enough, but he may not have thought it harmless if he'd caught other priests doing it … at least until this week."
If the scandal had come to light next month, that would have been nicely timed to ruin the Cardinal's reputation just when the media would be running retrospective pieces about him. And, of course, it would throw a spotlight on O'Brien's passionate opposition to gay marriage, effectively silencing the Scottish Catholic Church on this subject, and probably the Church in the rest of Britain, too.
What no one could have guessed is that Pope Benedict would resign, meaning that Cardinal O'Brien would be the only Briton with a vote in the next conclave. The Observer story was brought forward, with devastating results. The four complainants had the good sense – and, arguably, the courage – to inform the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Mennini, of their claims. (Mennini, it should be noted, is not in the pocket of the British bishops to the extent that previous ambassadors have been.)
So the Vatican already had a file on Britain's senior Catholic churchman, and Pope Benedict, on being informed of its contents, decided to bring forward O'Brien's resignation as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. In other words, the alleged victims of these inappropriate acts were helped by something that the Church's critics have often refused to recognise: Joseph Ratzinger's determination to purify the Church of sex abuse, right up until the last week of his pontificate.
Cardinal O'Brien's decision not to attend the conclave has thrown the Church into disarray: if he judges himself unsuitable to vote, how can Cardinal Roger Mahony, disgraced by cover-ups in Los Angeles, possibly be fit to do so?
But the implications in Britain are equally far-reaching. This country is in the middle of a debate about gay marriage in which, given the support of politicians and the media for the innovation, there is a shortage of public figures prepared to speak for the 50 per cent of voters unhappy with the measure. Until now, the Catholic Church has been given a respectful hearing. But today, with its senior clergyman accused of touching up young men after drink-fuelled "counselling"?
We do not, it should be stressed, know that the behaviour actually occurred. What we do know is that, thanks to this grubby scandal, gay marriage seems even more of an inevitability – and the Catholic Church's freedom to oppose it is suddenly looking more fragile.
Source: The Telegraph