Flocks and shepherds

As a conclave gathers to elect a pope, many in the Catholic church want change

St Basil

WANTED: man of God; good at languages; preferably under 75; extensive pastoral experience; no record of covering up clerical sex abuse, deeply spiritual and, mentally, tough as old boots. It is a lot to ask, but that is the emerging profile of the man many of his fellow-cardinals would like to see replace Benedict XVI as the next pope.

On March 4th the princes of the church began a series of preliminary “general congregations”, the first step to electing a pontiff. They have much to discuss. After four sessions, they had still not—as expected—fixed a date for the Conclave, the electoral college, made up of cardinals below the age of 80, which will actually choose the next pope.

The papal spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the members of the general congregation, who include older cardinals, are not “hurrying things”. By March 6th, when they adjourned, the assembly had heard 51 speeches. As Father Lombardi tactfully put it, they spoke “freely and with rather effective colour”. That is code for candour—even bluntness. Indeed, given the crises the church faces, delicacy might seem remiss.

The procedure is usually to identify the main threats facing the church and then find the cardinal best able to deal with them. Of the subjects cited by Father Lombardi, half concerned the Vatican itself. Deeper questions include the loss of religious faith in Europe; the challenge from evangelical Protestantism in Latin America; persecution of Christians in the Middle East and clerical sex abuse. But none is as pressing as the turmoil in the Roman Curia, the church’s central administration.

Benedict, intellectually fearless yet personally timid, was unable to keep order. Many in Rome believe that was the true reason for his departure. The Curia has become a battleground. Prelates loyal to the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who in many cases were appointed by him or come from his native region of Piedmont, are at furious odds with papal diplomats who resented the appointment of a secretary of state with no knowledge of their business. Other feuds abound too. The leaking of documents by the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, though apparently motivated by genuine dismay at decisions taken in the Vatican, was entwined with this venomous plotting and squabbling.

Following the will of God
The findings of an investigative panel of three cardinals will cast a long shadow over the conclave. Last month an Italian newspaper wrote of a ring of gay prelates, some being blackmailed by outsiders. In the first general congregation, three cardinals—reportedly all Europeans—demanded (in vain) access to the findings. If the report will indeed be kept secret until it is handed to the new pope, it is unclear who made that decision. Secrecy fosters suspicions that the contents are dreadful.

The episode may also strengthen the resolve of the mainly English- and German-speaking cardinals who want a vigorous pope to clean up the Curia. This was last reformed under Paul VI, who reigned from 1963 to 1978. Cardinal George Pell, the burly archbishop of Sydney, said he wanted “a strategist, a decision-maker, a planner, somebody who has got strong pastoral capacities already demonstrated so that he can take a grip of the situation.”

For I have sinned

Among those watching the decision making in Rome with apprehension, fear and optimism is the Catholic priesthood. In many countries, their declining and ageing ranks are beset by the revelation of past scandals—both at the parish and at the top. This week Scotland’s most senior cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, admitted that his sexual conduct at times “has fallen below the standards” expected of him. A radio interview by his former counterpart in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, marked by a nervous laugh and opaque language, compounded the ire.

Victims of sexual abuse believe the reckoning has barely begun. They want not just proper investigation, but apologies and punishments—and in some cases cash. For them, Benedict exemplified the secretive, cautious response that aggravated the misconduct. It will be hard for any new pope to meet their expectations.

Along with frustrations of church politics and shame about misconduct, attendance at mass is falling. In America it has declined by over a third since 1960. In Britain data from the 2011 census show a similar trend, with numbers of Christians down 12 percentage points since 2001. Average Sunday attendance has fallen for the past 20 years. In mostly Catholic Italy only 39% attend on a monthly basis.

But parish life goes on. Timothy Radcliffe, the former head of the Dominican order, says priests are mostly happy, albeit overstretched. After a peak of 110 vocations in England and Wales in 1996, the figure dropped to a mere 19 in 2006. But this year 38 ordinations are expected. In a reversal of the old days of Western missionaries, many were born overseas. Father Stephen Wang, of Allen Hall seminary in London, counts men from Africa, India and Australia in this year’s cohort of 54.

Movements such as “Youth 2000” and World Youth Day encourage vocations through what has been called “evangelical Catholicism”, says Father Wang, in which the faith is “more confident” about presenting itself. Traditionalist groups such as the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter or the Institute of Christ the King are attracting younger members. The provost of the Brompton Oratory, a traditionalist church in central London, is Father Julian Large, a 43-year-old former journalist who draws a youthful following.

The brighter shore

In some respects the woes of the church in the West seem far away from the parts of the world where it is thriving. In a leafy sanctuary from the heat and frenzy of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest city, Father Aurel da Silva sits under a tree on the tidy front lawn of a monastery. On the wall behind him hangs an oversize portrait of Michel Nielly, who a half-century ago established it as a beachhead for the Dominican order. Today it houses some 30 seminarians from across the region and its small wooden chapel attracts Abidjan’s elites for Sunday mass.

Near the guardhouse, employees raise money for local charities by selling mushrooms that grow in the monastery’s garden. Ceramic water filters distributed to the poor are also displayed prominently. A pink leaflet posted on a bulletin board advertises job-training programmes for unemployed youth. When violence engulfed Côte d’Ivoire after its disputed 2010 presidential election, the towering St Paul’s cathedral in the heart of Abidjan sheltered nearly 2,000 people.

The rapidly growing African Catholic church, says Father da Silva, has great ambitions as a social force. But autonomy must be the watchword. The doctrinal debates and papal intrigue in Rome hardly concern him. “I haven’t spent time in Rome, but I don’t need to,” he says. “What I do here is more important.”

Some of his seminarians have softer attitudes to the Vatican, but they insist that the church’s social message is secondary: spirituality comes first. The African church is no hotbed of liberalism. Its leading contender for the papacy, the Ghanaian cardinal Peter Turkson, is widely regarded as a conservative in the mold of Benedict.

But one of Father da Silva’s older colleagues stakes out a more radical position. The church must evolve, he says. His priorities are: the end of clerical celibacy, women’s ordination, and, above all, greater tolerance for dissent: “You have to accept other people’s way of thinking.”

Those views chime across continents and oceans. In the beautiful, desolate west of Ireland is the village of Moygownagh, the home parish of Father Brendan Hoban. He is a co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, which aspires to represent the 2m Irish people who attend mass at least once a month. It is campaigning for an end to celibacy, “inclusive ministry” (code for women priests) and a rethinking of sexual teaching, especially on contraception.

Nearly a quarter of Ireland’s 4,500 priests (and probably a higher share of its able-bodied, energetic ones) has joined. It is in touch with similar bodies in Austria, where a grass-roots initiative among priests incurred a papal rebuke last year, as well as France, the Czech Republic, Australia and the United States.

The Irish association has special credibility. It speaks for a country where the hierarchy is reeling from horrific revelations about abuse in church-run institutions and clerical cover-ups, but where the population, despite the onrush of secularism, remains relatively pious by the standards of the rich world.

The village exemplifies both the crisis and strength of Irish Catholicism. Half of its residents attend weekly mass and most of the remainder look to the church for rites of passage, from first communion to anniversary masses for the dead. Despite the recession, generous donations are paying for church refurbishment.

Moygownagh belongs to a small diocese with 32 priests serving 22 parishes; that number sounds high, and it reflects a flood of vocations in the 1960s and 1970s. But only seven priests are under 55. Father Hoban is nearly 65. When he retires, he expects that the village will be left without a priest of its own for the first time in centuries. In his parents’ time, he recalls, a local farming family would be proud if a son joined the priesthood. Now, he says, even a “faithful Catholic family might panic” if a son announced a similar vocation. “They would feel he was embarking on a life of stress, isolation and low social prestige.”

Almost all the church’s recent woes can be ascribed, in Father Hoban’s view, to the top-down decision-making which has marked the past two papacies. Like many Catholic liberals, he feels that the trouble started when the church hierarchy hijacked the devolutionary reforms of the second Vatican council and blocked change or implemented it badly.

The result, viewed from an Irish village, is that “Rome doesn’t listen to the national bishops; the bishops don’t tell Rome the truth because Rome doesn’t want to hear it; the bishops don’t listen to the priests, the priests haven’t listened enough to the people.” With lay involvement, the child-abuse cover-ups would not have happened. He does not want the church to be “literally democratic”, but nor should it “preserve structures inherited from the Roman empire.”

What do priests of his school expect from the conclave? “In some ways we don’t hope for that much, because all the cardinals have been appointed under the present order. But we hope that some can see the dysfunctionality of the Vatican in its present form…the cardinals need to bite the bullet and appoint somebody who can challenge the Curia.”

Complete Article HERE!

Shadow of shame: The conflict facing gay priests

I am delighted that my research and I are referenced in this fine article.

By Dani Garavelli

LOOKING back from a distance of more than 20 years, Fr Joe can see that his decision to join the priesthood was motivated in part by his homosexuality. Coming of age in the 1970s, when there was still a huge stigma attached to coming out as gay, it provided an alternative to getting married and having children.

small_front“I was hugely idealistic and genuinely believed in the priesthood, but I think it was also the only respectable way to be Catholic and single,” he says. “I wouldn’t have recognised it at the time, but I think I was trying to escape having to tell my family about my sexuality or even having to face up to it properly ­myself.”

Once ordained, however, he realised being gay in a church which considers ­homosexuality to be intrinsically disordered brings problems of its own. Prey to the same temptations as everyone else, but unable to talk openly about them, many homosexual priests find themselves feeling undervalued and ­isolated. Trying to navigate their way in a highly sexualised society, with little or no pastoral support, it’s hardly surprising if they sometimes find it difficult to keep their vows.

“I think celibacy is always a struggle, it’s the same for all priests – in fact it’s the same for married people – you try to keep your integrity, to stay true to what you have been called to, ” says Fr Joe, who was a priest in Scotland but has now moved abroad. “I belong to a religious order that means you live with other guys; it means you have emotional support and your chances of being ­lonely are less. The ones I feel really sorry for are the diocesan priests who are alone in a parish. I think celibacy must be even more difficult for them. They have no-one to confide in when they are feeling low or horny or any other normal ­human way of feeling.”

As with any same-sex environment, such as a boarding school or prison, there can also be a kind of “super-heated effect” in the seminary or church where, regardless of sexual orientation, men have crushes on other men and that is more likely to spill over into sexual ­behaviour when the whole subject of sexuality is taboo. “I think that is something gay men in the Church are prone to,” Fr Joe says. “Because the subject is hidden, it creates this secret club kind of environment because priests who are gay are only likely to be open with other priests who are gay, you become part of a secret club, not because you want to, but because your peers are your support group.”

Fr Joe’s experiences are not rare. Studies have suggested the priesthood attracts a disproportionate number of gay men, with Dominican Friar-turned-journalist Mark Dowd suggesting earlier this week, the figure could be as high as 50 per cent. Such statistics have become headline news because even as the Church has become increasingly strident in its position on such issues as gay marriage it is being claimed that an increasing number of homosexual priests, Bishops and even Cardinals are breaking their vow of chastity.

There have, of course, been many scandals in the past involving heterosexual priests and Bishops, who have had affairs and fathered children. But now Italian newspapers are speculating Benedict XVI’s unprecedented resignation was inspired by a dossier revealing a powerful network of actively gay priests in the highest echelons of the Vatican. The dossier was compiled in the wake of the Vatileaks scandal, which saw papers taken from the Pope’s desk published in a blockbuster book, and after Italian journalist Carmelo Abbate took a hidden camera into Rome’s gay nightclubs to expose a group of priests who said mass by day and had sex with male escorts by night.

Back at home, there have been controversies too. In 2008, a man was jailed for blackmailing a priest he had encountered at a meeting point for gay men in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow. And now, of course, there are the allegations that Cardinal Keith O’Brien engaged in ­“inappropriate behaviour” with several priests, allegations which, though ­contested, led him to step down.

From a secular viewpoint, the scandal lies less in the sexuality of the priests, but in the perceived hypocrisy of an ­institution which is seen as homophobic being an apparent cauldron of gay activity. But this contradiction also raises questions as to the degree to which the Catholic Church’s attitude towards ­homosexuality – and the climate of ­secrecy it engenders amongst gay priests – has contributed to its own travails.

The fact the priesthood is attractive to homosexuals is neither new nor surprising. Neither are the Church’s efforts to cover this up. Back in the 1980s, Richard Wagner, an openly gay priest from Illinois, who was completing a doctorate in human sexuality, interviewed 50 gay priests about their experiences in order to examine how they reconciled their own identity with the Church’s absolute ban on homosexual activity. As a result of the media firestorm surrounding the publication of his dissertation “Gay Catholic Priests: A Study Of Cognitive And ­Affective Dissonance”, he says he was hounded out of his religious order. “In one way, the Church is the perfect place for closeted homosexual to prosper,” he says. “But at some point, these people have to face their sexuality and either address it and become comfortable with it or have it contaminate the rest of their lives. When you live in the confines of the seminary there’s not the same kind of distraction you have when, after ordination, you are in ministry in a world awash with sexual imagery. Hopefully that washes over those who are healthy and integrated in terms of their sexuality, but those who are troubled are lost. I was merely pointing out there was a significant population of gay priests, good men who had committed their lives to the Church, who were struggling with their sexuality and there was no encouragement or help.”

The atmosphere such isolation fosters, the deep-seated shame it engenders, lends itself to exactly the kind of abuses of power or inappropriate behaviour O’Brien has been accused of. “A combination of the Church’s immature attitude to sex and the secrecy of the gay priest is a really powerful, really poisonous mix,” Fr Joe says.

The irony is that as society as a whole has become more accepting of homosexuality (and recent research suggests the Catholic laity is less concerned about issues like premarital and gay sex than other Christian denominations), the Church’s position has become more entrenched, with O’Brien, originally perceived as a liberal, at the vanguard of the campaign against same-sex marriage.

“They say their job is not to reflect society, but to challenge society, but I think the Church has lost its moral authority to speak about homosexuality because it has shown so little tolerance of and support for gay and lesbian people,” says Fr Joe, who went out of his way to ensure his Scottish parish was inclusive. “It says, ‘Oh it’s not the sinner we hate, it’s the sin,’ but to my mind, that’s rank hypocrisy.”

In the wake of the succession of sex abuse scandals which has shaken the Church over the past 10 years, the hierarchy tried to clamp down on the ordination of gay priests – a move which was hugely controversial, not only because of the hurt it caused existing gay priests, but also because it implied a connection between homosexuality and paedophilia.

Under the new policy, introduced in 2005, men with “transitory” homosexual leanings could be ordained following three years of chastity, but men with “deeply rooted” homosexual tendencies or those who were sexually active could not. The Church also introduced a tougher screening process. Many candidates for the priesthood in England and Wales, for example, are sent to St Luke’s Centre in Manchester, where they are subjected to a battery of psychological tests.

The sense they are not wanted has made existing gay priests feel even more demoralised. “There’s been a constant drip, drip, drip of negativity, taking away guys’ self-esteem, coming from this hypocritical section of the Church,” Fr Joe says.

Today Wagner runs a website and receives calls from troubled gay priests all over the world. Some of them, he says, want to lead the ascetic life they signed up for, others are looking for sexual ­fulfilment, but all are trying to reconcile two conflicting parts of their own ­personality – their vocation and their sexuality.

“They want to know how to navigate this maelstrom of sexual negativity and try to put that together with the Gospel message of authenticity and integrity and truthfulness, but it’s nearly impossible to do,” he says.

The fact that some highly placed gay clergymen endorse the Church’s line on homosexuality could be viewed as the height of cynicism, but others, who have seen the workings of the Church at close hand see it as a manifestation of their inner conflict. “There are a lot of self-hating priests, but there are others who are frightened – they feel they have to toe the line or they will be out of a ­living,” says Fr Joe.

Vatican adviser John Haldane has suggested one way out of the current crisis is to compel priests – gay or heterosexual – to renew their vow of celibacy or leave the Church. Yet it is hard to feel anything but sympathy for committed priests who took their vows before they really understood their own sexuality or how important the need for companionship might become in later life. “There are men who think they can take this vow and live up to it, especially if they are fairly young,” says Elena Curti, deputy editor of The Tablet. “They are full of enthusiasm and idealism and they can survive on that for the first decade or two, but in my experience, when they get older, into their 40s and 50s, they feel immensely isolated. They see their peers around them with children and a real, intense loneliness kicks in and it’s often at that stage they stage they leave.”

Since the Church can’t afford to lose any more clergy, it seems more sensible to relax the rules on marriage as O’Brien suggested days before he resigned. Celibacy is not a matter of doctrine and there are many liberals who would be happy to see it dropped. This feeling has been strengthened by the Church’s decision to welcome married Anglican priests into the fold. But relaxing the rule on celibacy would not help ease the plight of gay priests; if anything it would make it worse. They would have to continue to battle with their own sexuality while watching their peers enjoy loving relationships.

Fr Joe is realistic; he knows whoever becomes Pope, the Church’s attitude towards homosexuality is unlikely to be radically overhauled in the near future. So what changes would he like to see? “The first thing and the easiest thing in the world, is a change of tone. Notch the warmth up 10 degrees and stop talking about homosexuality in terms of sin and disorder,” he says. “Secondly if the Church wants authority to speak on that matter it needs to show a clear level of pastoral support for lesbian and gay people that is non-judgmental on a spiritual and practical level.

“Then you it look at how the doctrine of the Church is expressed – whether it accurately reflects a good understanding of anthropology or sociology or psychology, or whether the Church is operating from an outdated model.” Fr Joe says that’s a 100-year project. But one thing’s for sure, unless the Church starts to ­address the disparity between the homophobia it spouts and the conduct of its own priests soon, the new Pope is likely spend his time in the Vatican as his predecessor did – firefighting one sex scandal after another.

Complete Article HERE!

O’Brien priest worries that church wants to ‘crush’ him

Key figure behind allegations of inappropriate behaviour attacks Catholic church’s response to complaints

By Catherine Deveney

A key figure behind allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Cardinal Keith O’Brien has launched a powerful attack on the Catholic church’s response to the complaints, saying he fears the church hierarchy would “crush” him if they could.

stop-victim-blaming1Last Sunday the Observer revealed that the former priest, along with three serving priests, had reported O’Brien’s behaviour to the Vatican, prompting the UK’s most senior Catholic to resign the following day. Now the former priest, who says he was the subject of unwanted attention by O’Brien when he was a 20-year-old seminarian, has come forward to explain why he made his allegations public and to lambast the Scottish church leadership’s reaction to last week’s story.

He is “disappointed” by the “lack of integrity” shown by the Catholic church. “There have been two sensations for me this week. One is feeling the hot breath of the media on the back of my neck and the other is sensing the cold disapproval of the church hierarchy for daring to break ranks. I feel like if they could crush me, they would,” he told the Observer.

He added that he was shocked when Peter Kearney, director of communications for the church in Scotland, claimed O’Brien’s resignation was not linked to the Observer story and that the church did not know the details of the allegations.

Kearney said he was unable to comment on suggestions that a new complaint had been lodged as a result of last week’s story. When asked to outline the church’s programme of support for complainants, he said only that they would be directed to Antonio Mennini, the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain, to make a formal statement.

“The vacuum the church has created has allowed whimsy and speculation to distort the truth,” the priest said. “And the only support I have been offered is a cursory email with a couple of telephone numbers of counsellors hundreds of miles away from me. Anyway, I don’t need counselling about Keith O’Brien’s unwanted behaviour to me as a young man. But I may need counselling about the trauma of speaking truth to power.”

The former cleric says he feels that he, rather than the cardinal, has been the subject of scrutiny. “I have felt very alone and there is a tendency to become reclusive when people are trying to hunt you down.”

He said he felt particularly angered by demands that the identity of the four complainants be revealed: “To those who want to know my name I would say, what does that change? And what do you think I have done wrong?”

He said that when the four came forward to the church, they were asked to make sworn signed statements to Mennini. But they were also warned that if their complaints became public knowledge, they would cause “immense further damage to the church”. The church, he says, failed to act quickly and appropriately, adding that he fears the matter was in danger of being swept under the carpet.

“For me, this is about integrity. I thought it was best to let the men and women who put their hard-earned cash in the plate every Sunday know what has been happening. If you pay into something you have a right, but also a duty, to know what you are paying for.”

He said that the men’s complaints were not maliciously motivated. “I am as sinful as the next man – as my partner and pals frequently remind me. But this isn’t about trying to own the moral high ground. I feel compassion for O’Brien, more compassion than the church is showing me, but the truth has to be available – even when that truth is hard to swallow.”

He also dismissed suggestions that the accusations contain an element of homophobia. ” This is not about a gay culture or a straight culture. It’s about an open culture. I would be happy to see an openly gay bishop, cardinal, or pope. But the church acts as if sexual identity has to be kept secret.”

Complete Article HERE!

Cardinal Keith O’Brien: how Britain’s Catholic leader fell from grace

By Catherine Deveney

What is it about a gold mitre, a flowing robe, a flash of cardinal red that so clouds our judgment? It is as if we believe these things hold a kind of magic. Don them and the wearer becomes pure and invincible. No human urges, no troublesome sexuality. Some people are naively enthralled by hierarchy. Priest, good. Bishop, better. Cardinal, best of all. The four complainants in the Cardinal O’Brien affair, who have accused him of inappropriate behaviour, haven’t rated much sympathy within this strange moral hierarchy. “Who are they?” I have been asked all week. “Where are they?” has been another frequent question. But I have rarely been asked: “How are they?”

Cardinal Keith O'BrienA narrative has begun to be embroidered on the cardinal’s magic mitre. A fairytale. He is named but his accusers are not, and therefore the accusations are invalid. Let us be clear about one thing: the three priests, and one former priest, who have made complaints are not anonymous. They have given sworn, signed statements to the papal nuncio. The unnerving thing about the hunt to “out” these men (my phone has not stopped ringing with offers to “make it worth my while”) is that it suggests people who have suffered traumatic events have no rights over how to tell their story, or how much information is made public. We demand not just that the appropriate authorities know names – we, the public, should know them, too.

In purely human terms, the story of Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation is tragic. He had spent a lifetime reaching the upper echelons of his church, but after allegations of inappropriate behaviour made in the Observer last Sunday his fall from grace took just 36 hours. Not one of the four complainants takes any satisfaction from that. This is not about the exposure of one man’s alleged foibles. It is about the exposure of a church official who publicly issues a moral blueprint for others’ lives that he is not prepared to live out himself. Homosexuality is not the issue; hypocrisy is. The cardinal consistently condemned homosexuality during his reign, vociferously opposing gay adoption and same-sex marriage. The church cannot face in two directions like a grotesque two-headed monster: one face for public, the other for private.

There have been some misunderstandings about the timing of this tale: ridiculous accusations about the complaints spoiling the cardinal’s retirement and having “the whiff of payback” for petty jealousies. Then it was suggested that this was all a conspiracy to prevent Keith O’Brien going to the conclave.

But in many ways this story was overtaken by events. The four complainants made their statements to the papal nuncio, Archbishop Mennini, around 8 or 9 February. On 11 February the pope resigned. The first response the complainants received from the nuncio said O’Brien should continue to go to Rome because “that will make it easier to arrange his retirement to be one of prayer and seclusion like the pope”. The complainants recognised church subtext. In a message to me one wrote: “This is saying, ‘leave it to us to sweep it under the carpet and you can forget about it. It will fade away as if we have dealt with it.’ Not acceptable.”

On 22 February, the cardinal gave an interview to the BBC about going to the conclave. He also said that church rules on celibacy should be reviewed. Informally, the men heard that the church was unhappy about that interview. Action would be taken. The cardinal would not go to Rome.

So did the church act because it was shocked by the claims against the cardinal or were they were angry he had broken ranks on celibacy? Two days later, the Observer published the story.

But why had the men waited so long to report allegations dating back to the 1980s? The answer is that people who have suffered trauma are not public property. They have the right to come to terms with it in their own time and express it in their own way, when they are ready. Being ready can simply be a collision of circumstances. Often, it’s as straightforward as realising you are not the only one.

Sometimes as a journalist, you hold one piece of a jigsaw puzzle for a very long time. Gradually, you pick up another piece, and then another, until the picture clicks together and makes sense. I had known one element of this story for years: the former priest’s. Let’s call him Lenny. Now married, Lenny had been approached by the cardinal while a seminarian. Lenny says the cardinal was his spiritual director and used bedtime prayers as an opportunity to make advances to his young student.

“I knew myself to be heterosexual,” he says, “but I did say to others that I thought it would be easier to get through seminary if you were gay.”

Last month I received a call from Lenny. He was very shaken. He had had a conversation with a priest – we’ll call him Peter – whom he hadn’t spoken to for years. Peter told Lenny about an inappropriate relationship the cardinal had instigated with him. Two other priests were drawn in: Kenny and John. Both had experienced unwanted advances from the cardinal.

“I’d never wanted to ‘out’ Keith just for being gay,” says Lenny. “But this was confirming that his behaviour towards me was part of his modus operandi. He has hurt others, probably worse, than he affected me. And that only became clear a few weeks ago.”

Last week there were claims the cardinal did not know details of the allegations. How could he respond, the implication was, if he did not know what he was being accused of? That was simply untrue. Last Saturday, the day before the Observer printed the story, the cardinal did not respond to calls and messages left for him. The Scottish Catholic Media Office was approached. Peter Kearney, the communications director, asked for the allegations to be put in writing. They were. In that email, four separate allegations were outlined. At the end, a direct question was posed: “Is it true that the cardinal has broken his vow of celibacy?” The allegations could not have been more specific.

Kearney certainly seemed to understand at the time. His response was brief: “The cardinal is consulting his lawyers. These claims are contested and should not be published.” But I had four statements that described the cardinal attempting to touch, kiss, or have sex with people in his care.

“He started fondling my body, kissing me and telling me how special I was to him and how much he loved me,” one had written. One of the statements was five pages long. Given the strength of the evidence we had, the Observer chose to publish the story.

There have been many questions about the four complainants that cast doubt on them and their motives. So let me tell you about the men I have come to know. They are men of conscience and integrity who desperately want to do “the right thing”. Men who love the church but recognise that the way it covers up scandal and hides wrongdoing is damaging. On a personal level they are funny, kind, spirited, generous, conventional and unconventional in different measures. But above all they are brave. Peter wrote to me saying it had been the worst week of his life. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. Each of those men spoke out knowing it could ruin their lives. Some of them were trying to work out what order they might be able to take refuge in if the church disowned them for speaking.

The biggest sin in the Catholic church has historically been “scandalising the faithful”. That is why the abhorrent cover-ups of child sex-abuse scandals have been part of the church’s history. They shield their own – and if you speak against them, you stop being their own. Archbishop Tartaglia of Glasgow – who caused outrage last year when he linked the tragically premature death of David Cairns MP to his homosexual lifestyle – publicly said prayers for the cardinal at mass in Edinburgh after being named as the cardinal’s temporary replacement. He invited the cameras in while he did it. It is right that the cardinal is given adequate support. It is not right if the church pretends that he is the victim in this. The gold mitre, the cardinal’s robes, do not make him more worthy of support than the men in ordinary clerical collars.

It seems there is a great deal of displacement activity going on in the Scottish Catholic Church. It is not the behaviour of the four complainants that should be concentrated on. It is the behaviour of the cardinal. How big a crisis this is for the church lies in its own hands. The signs so far do not suggest a new era of openness. But, as the church itself proclaims, redemption is always possible for a sinner.

Priests tell me there is a “gay culture” in the Scottish Catholic church – but not an open, healthy one. In some ways, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise. The church has always had a deeply cynical side when it comes to sexual morality. Lenny recalls being a young priest, accompanying an older priest who would rise to great heights in the church. The older man was drunk and was ranting about men who left the priesthood. Why leave to have sex? Why didn’t they just visit a sauna and go to confession in the morning?

A cardinal does not resign overnight over trivia. Some people have questioned, though, whether his alleged behaviour constitutes abuse. After all, this involves adults, not children. One commentator even suggested it’s all just a scandalous homophobic plot. That completely misunderstands the nature of the power a spiritual director has over his seminarians and a cardinal has over his priests. Lenny gave up his priesthood when O’Brien was promoted to be his bishop. He did not want to be in his power. “He harmed me in so many ways,” he explained.

And ask Peter if this story involved abuse. Peter has undergone long-term psychological counselling. His experiences with the cardinal are part of his records. Peter admits he even contemplated suicide. And still people are shouting “Reveal yourself!”

Why should he?

A few nights ago Lenny had a dream. He and his fellow complainants were in a cold, damp church, searching for a piece of scripture for a funeral. The Bible they were looking in was tattered. They could not find the words. When he woke, Lenny knew exactly the passage they had been hunting for: Ecclesiasticus 2. He wants the words read at his own funeral, to be acknowledged in the end as a priest.

“My son, if you aspire to serve the Lord,
Prepare yourself for an ordeal…
…Since gold is tested in the fire
And chosen men in the furnace of humiliation.”

There is the superficial gold of the mitre, and then there is solid gold. The church has to learn the difference. When Lenny told the others his dream, one said he, too, had dreamed about their situation. His dream had been simpler. Keith O’Brien had asked their forgiveness for his behaviour. All of them had granted it.

Complete Article HERE!

Scottish cardinal admits improper sexual conduct

Thank you for your honesty, Cardinal!

By Joshua J. McElwee

Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, a Scottish archbishop who resigned last week following accusations of improper sexual conduct with priests, has admitted that “my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”

cardinal-keith-o-brien-QUITSO’Brien, who as a cardinal is entitled to take part in the secret vote to determine the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church, had previously announced he would recuse himself from the vote so as to not attract media attention.

The archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh in Scotland until the Vatican announced his retirement Feb. 25, O’Brien has been accused of improper sexual contact with three priests and one former priest in incidents over the last three decades.

O’Brien had previously denied the allegations through his spokesman. On Saturday, he released a statement acknowledging improper acts and asking forgiveness.

“In recent days certain allegations which have been made against me have become public,” O’Brien said in the statement.

“Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them. However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”

“To those I have offended, I apologise and ask forgiveness,” wrote O’Brien. “To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologise.”

“I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland.”

Complete Article HERE!