Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the UK’s most senior Catholic, has resigned early amid allegations he made “inappropriate” advances toward a number of priests.
O’Brien was set to stand down from his post as the head of the Scottish Catholic church on March 17, his 75th birthday, however in a statement it was confirmed that outgoing Pope Benedict XVI had accepted O’Brien’s resignation early, on February 18. The news was only made public on Monday.
Approaching the age of 75 and at times in indifferent health, I tendered my resignation as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh to Pope Benedict XVI some months ago. I was happy to know that he accepted my resignation “nunc pro tunc” – (now – but to take effect later) on 13 November 2012. The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today, 25 February 2013, and that he will appoint an apostolic administrator to govern the archdiocese in my place until my successor as archbishop is appointed. In the meantime I will give every assistance to the apostolic administrator and to our new archbishop, once he is appointed, as I prepare to move into retirement.
O’Brien goes on to say he has enjoyed his time of ministry. He also adds an interesting conciliatory note:
I have valued the opportunity of serving the people of Scotland and overseas in various ways since becoming a priest. Looking back over my years of ministry: for any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended.
Allegations made by three serving priests and one former priest, identities unknown, surfaced late last week.
The complaints, first reported on by The Observer, include one former priest alleging Cardinal O’Brien made what has been termed an “inappropriate approach after night prayers” when the priest was a seminarian at St Andrew’s College, Drygrange. The complainant later resigned when Cardinal O’Brien was made a bishop.
Three other complaints, all of them made by still serving priests, allege so-called “unwanted behavior” including one incident that appears to allege the cardinal made advances “after a late-night drinking session” at his residence. All of the complainants say the cardinal abused his position of seniority to make such advances. It should be noted, however, that The Observer’s use of vague language and sparse detail means that the exact nature of the allegations has yet to be determined.
Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church, is quoted as saying “Cardinal O’Brien contests these claims and is taking legal advice.” O’Brien missed celebrating Sunday Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh this past weekend.
The cardinal’s early exit from his post now means that he will not be given a vote during the conclave to select the new pope. This was apparently the intention of the complainants who, concerned by the church’s reluctance to take action on historic abuse allegations, wished to ensure that O’Brien would not shape the future of the church.
This has the interesting side-effect of leaving the UK unrepresented at the conclave because no other senior cardinal in the UK is under 80, the cut-off for voting eligibility.
O’Brien has been a controversial figure in recent years. A staunch opponent of same-sex marriage rights being legalized in Scotland, the cardinal even went so far as to make the extraordinary claim last year that legalizing marriage equality is akin to legalizing slavery. Despite widespread criticism, O’Brien refused to backtrack. Indeed, he later went on to draw from the tatty deck of classic anti-gay arguments, saying that gay marriages would inherently damage children, weaken society and destroy religious rights.
O’Brien has also been a keen advocate for US-Religious Right style abortion laws and has advocated Scotland adopting invasive scanning procedures.
Despite the fact O’Brien has vigorously denied these new allegations, that the Vatican appears to be distancing itself would seem to be an attempt to insulate the incoming pope from the scandals that have dogged Pope Benedict XVI’s time in charge.
Whether the allegations made against O’Brien are found to be true — or, in turn, whether they are ever acted on by the church — may now be a separate issue to the fact that, as a result, Pope Benedict XVI will end his time as head of the Catholic Church in much the same way as it was served: amid controversy and the shame of exposed internal cover-ups.