Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in Britain stepped down today amid allegations of his “inappropriate behaviour” with three priests and one former priest. The decision to bring forward the 74-year-old cardinal’s resignation by three weeks was made personally by the pope. In a statement this morning he said: “The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today.”
Four claimants had made allegations to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain, that Cardinal O’Brien had committed ‘inappropriate acts’ dating back to the 1980s.
He did not attend a special mass to celebrate the reign of Pope Benedict XVI at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, and was reported to have stayed away after seeking legal advice.
He had been due to retire on March 17 this year.
He is no stranger to making the news with his views, landing him the Bigot of the Year award, from the gay rights group Stonewall following comments he made about homosexuality. In 2007 he caused controversy when speaking on the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act he said the termination rate north of the border was equivalent to “two Dunblane massacres a day”. And in 2008 he described the implications of The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill as “grotesque” and akin to “Nazi-style experiments”.
Emphasis added. Read the rest in The Scotsman.
The New York Times today provides context:
Cardinal O’Brien’s announcement came a day after The Observer newspaper reported that four men had made t complaints to the pope’s diplomatic representative in Britain, Antonio Mennini, and that the complaints had reached Archbishop Mennini in the week before Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Feb. 11.
The Observer article said that one of the four men involved in the complaints against the cardinal had later left the priesthood and married, unable to reconcile himself to the idea of spending a lifetime under Cardinal O’Brien’s authority.
According to the newspaper, the man accused the cardinal of having made an “inappropriate approach” to him after night prayers when he was an 18-year-old seminarian in 1980, when Cardinal O’Brien, then a priest, was his spiritual director at a seminary in Melrose, south of Edinburgh.
Another of the complainants, who is still a priest, was said to have complained about inappropriate contact between him and Cardinal O’Brien, then a priest, during a parish visit. The third complainant, another priest, was said to have been invited to spend a week “getting to know” the cardinal, by that time an archbishop, at his residence in Edinburgh, and having to deal with “unwanted attention” from the senior cleric after a late-night drinking session.
The fourth man was said to have had his own experience of inappropriate contact when, in the early years of his priesthood, he sought counseling over personal problems from Cardinal O’Brien, then an archbishop.
The timing of The Observer’s article, which was apparently drawn from church sources with access to the file that Archbishop Mennini had forwarded to Rome, became an immediate focus of attention.
The Scottish Catholic Media Office issued this statement. An extract:
The Cardinal had already presented last November his resignation in view of his 75th birthday on 17 March 2013, and it was accepted by the Holy Father with the formula ‘nunc pro tunc’ (now for later). Given the imminent Vacant See, the Holy Father has now decided to accept the said resignation definitively.
Reacting to the acceptance of his resignation, Cardinal O’Brien said;
“Approaching the age of seventy-five and at times in indifferent health, I tendered my resignation as Archbishop of Saint 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.
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. …
O’Brien had planned to attend the conclave to elect a new pope. There have been calls for other cardinal with tarnished reputations to skip the election.
It was only last week that O’Brien told the BBC speaking of the future of the church post-Benedict expressed the opinion the priests should be able to marry.
For example the celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry – Jesus didn’t say that. There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church – in some branches of the Catholic church – priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine of origin and it could get discussed again.
Gordon Brown provides insight.