Cardinal O’Brien greeting Pope Benedict XVI
Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leading Catholic prelate in the United Kingdom, announced on Monday that he was resigning as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and that he will not attend the upcoming papal conclave as an elector. The cardinal, one of the UK’s most visible opponents of LGBT equality, is accused of improper conduct by four priests dating back nearly three decades.
While O’Brien denies claims published in a British newspaper on Sunday that he initiated inappropriate contact, this controversial Catholic has quickly removed himself from the public eye. Andrew Brown writing at The Guardian sees the accelerated pace of Cardinal’s resignation as progress in handling sexual abuse claims, but mulls deeper over the issues of homosexuality and forced celibacy in this scandal:
“. . . [T]he story illustrates the grotesque and humiliating difficulties that the Roman Catholic church has knotted itself into where sex and gay people are concerned…
“Of course, the real problem is that the Roman Catholic church expects an entirely unrealistic standard of continence from its priesthood. Some priests can manage celibacy. The evidence from all around the world is that most can’t…In countries where that isn’t an available alternative, the priesthood becomes a refuge for gay men – especially in societies where homophobia is the public norm.
“This fact adds irony to O’Brien’s denunciations of gay marriage. You can’t really expect better from a church that still hasn’t come to terms properly with heterosexual marriage…And a church that can’t treat women as equals is certainly not going to be realistic about marriage between two men.”
Cardinal O’Brien’s legacy will be multi-faceted, but decidedly anti-LGBT given his repeated assaults on both legal rights and pastoral concerns. Bondings 2.0 reported stories throughout last year about O’Brien, including being named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by UK-charity Stonewall.
In 2012 alone, he referred to same-gender marriage a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right,” claimed legalizing it would be similar to instituting slavery anew, and expressed concerns that school libraries might circulate “homosexual fairy stories” as a result. O’Brien has lead Catholic efforts to block legislation granting equal marriage, through sizeable financial commitments and a failed attempt to hold a referendum on the issue in Scotland.
The realities of gay priests were further elucidated by Peter Stanford at The Telegraph in an article titled, “Too many priests preach truth, but live a lie”:
“…I’ve met many clerics. Many are openly gay. Or so open when not saying Mass that it is easy to forget I’m not meant to remember it when they are.
“In general, such double standards don’t overly concern me. Like the rest of us, priests, monks, bishops and even cardinals are as God made them. Whatever inner tension they struggle with as leaders in a Church that teaches that to be gay is – and I am quoting a document sent out by the soon-to-retire Pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger – ‘a strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil,’ that is a matter for their own conscience.
“Tolerance wears a bit thin, however, when they start attacking gay marriage in such strident terms from the pulpit, and even signing letters en masse in protest at the Government’s proposals. It is getting dangerously close to hypocrisy.”
Not all critics focus on the visceral efforts that Cardinal O’Brien led as one of many outwardly anti-LGBT clergymen who secretly struggle with their sexuality. Instead, LGBT advocates in some quarters express hope for change in this transitory period. Pink News reports on reactions from pro-LGBT organizations, including that of Tom French of Scotland’s Equality Network:
“‘It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the allegations made against Cardinal O’Brien. Of course we hope that the Catholic Church in Scotland will use the opportunity new leadership brings to reassess its opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.’
“‘The Catholic Church does a huge amount of good work on issues like poverty, and it’s a shame that this important work is so often overshadowed by its position on issues of sexuality.’”
Sexual abuse claims laid against homophobic leadership detracts from the Church’s truest work of justice, and undermines the more progressive policies of those like Cardinal O’Brien, who just recently proposed a renewed discussion around married Catholic clergy. In this period of episcopal transitions worldwide, perhaps the hierarchy will critically address the sexual ethics it promotes instead of doubling-down on its anti-LGBT policies.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
Related articles: BBC.co.uk: “Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigns as Archbishop”
The Guardian: “What lies behind religious homophobia”