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Cardinal O’Brien admits sexual misconduct, but questions remain

Cardinal O’Brien admits sexual misconduct, but questions remain

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who was forced to resign by the pope last week, has made a dramatic admission that he was guilty of sexual misconduct throughout his career in the Roman Catholic church. In a short but far-reaching statement issued late on Sunday, the 74-year-old stated that “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”.

The former archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and until recently the most senior Catholic in Britain, apologised and asked for forgiveness from those he had “offended” and from the entire church.

O’Brien has effectively admitted he had been breaching the church’s strict rules on celibacy and its bar on homosexuality since he became a priest – and during his 10 years as a cardinal. It was alleged that some of these incidents were “drunken fumblings”. One case reported by the Observer involved repeated sexual contact.

On Friday, there were claims that complaints had been made to the nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, by a fifth priest last year, about an alleged incident in 2001.

Announcing that he would now retire entirely from public life and from the frontline duties for the church he once led, O’Brien said: “In recent days certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them….”

Read it all in The Guardian.

Damian Thompson of The Telegraph is apoplectic and calls the admission “evasive”. Last week he wrote an article titled “Cardinal O’Brien gay sex scandal: this was a hit job that succeeded beyond the plotters’ wildest dreams”.

But Questions Remain says Ekklesia:

Church sources immediately moved to try to close down further investigations. Catherine Peppinster, editor of the Tablet newspaper, said: “It’s time to move on. Too many scandals in the Catholic church drag on and on, but this one has been dealt with speedily, and a line can be drawn.”

But such sentiments are likely to offend and distress abuse victims, and the calls for proper procedure both within the Catholic Church and beyond, alongside concrete moves towards establishing openness, are likely to increase in the coming days – particularly as it emerged that the Vatican had known about the allegations for five months and had apparently hoped that they would slip away from vision as the Cardinal retired.

Moreover, observed BBC religion correspondent Robert Piggott: “As Cardinal O’Brien’s statement is so conspicuously devoid of any detail, it seems to raise almost as many questions as it answers – particularly about the nature and timing of the occasions of that wrongdoing.”


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Heck, I’d like from O’Brien an “I retract my previous inflammatory condemnation of same-sex marriage: obviously, I am in NO POSITION to judge!”

JC Fisher


Someday, I’d love to see an apology that wasn’t about “falling below the standards” set by external agencies, but an admission that “I have hurt other people and I am sorry.” Something that has nothing to do with the rules, and everything to do with the fact that we are called to love one another and care for one another, and repent when we hurt one another.

Laura Toepfer

Chris Epting

Exactly, John. But the point is,the “culture of secrecy” is what leads often to this kind of sexual misconduct. We’ve seen enough of it in our own church. We need openness, honesty, and clear guidelines for appropriate, and inappropriate, conduct.

John B. Chilton

Peter, if his conduct was confined to the consensual I would agree entirely. But some (many?) occurred in the context of counseling priests who had gone to him for help. Behavior that would be sexual misconduct regardless.

Peter Pearson

Wouldn’t it be far healthier and holy if we lived in a world where people didn’t have to keep secrets like this? I suspect that this sort of situation would become less common and priests/brothers/sisters would be far better to live into the vocation to which God has called them. I pray for a church that does not see the need for intimacy as something to be ashamed of and where intimacy is understood in emotional rather than physical terms. Like they say in AA: “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”

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