The Observer, Saturday 30 March 2013
The campaign by some in the Catholic church to limit the damage following Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s downfall was sadly inevitable. What could not have been foreseen, though, was how nasty and ham-fisted it would turn out to be. Catherine Deveney’s revelations in the Observer last month that three Scottish priests and a former priest had complained to the Vatican of being victims of inappropriate conduct by O’Brien exposed what many of us had long feared: that the leadership of the church in Scotland is rotten to the core and no longer fit for purpose.
The response by what passes for the church authorities since Deveney’s game-changing story only lends credence to this assertion. No pastoral outreach to these four men, each of whom believes they have a God-given vocation to serve His church, has been forthcoming. Instead, they have been subjected to a whispering campaign of innuendo and half-baked supposition. Incredibly, several influential Catholics, who really ought to have known better, have made shrill calls for the priests to “out” themselves. Last week it was suggested that they were motivated by little more than personal malice against O’Brien and that their claims amounted to a conspiracy to bring him down.
Nowhere has there been an acknowledgment of what would have happened had these four men not come forward: that O’Brien would have joined his 115 brother cardinals in Rome for the conclave to elect a new pope and that, as such, he would have been a not unreasonable each-way bet for the ultimate elevation. This despite the fact that Vatican authorities were by then aware of at least five complaints made against him. Informed sources to whom I’ve spoken recently have stated that O’Brien had been viewed as a viable compromise candidate during the conclave which elected Benedict XVI in 2005.
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