|Cardinal O'Brien in the much happier days of Pope Benedict's visit to Scotland.|
Damian Thompson is a conservative Catholic who writes for Britian's Telegraph. He is a High Church kind of conservative Catholic and not necessarily an American type Catholic neocon. He is beside himself over the sudden resignation of Scotland's culture warrior Cardinal Keith O'Brien. Here is his take on O'Brien's resignation:
Cardinal O'Brien resigns after gay allegations – and won't vote for next Pope. This is a shocking crisis for the Church
Damian Thompson - The Telegraph - 2/25/2012
Let's spell this out bluntly. The most senior Catholic cleric in Britain, Cardinal Keith O'Brien of St Andrews and Edinburgh, has been forced to resign ahead of schedule following allegations that he made homosexual advances to younger clergy in his diocese – and isn't now expected to attend the conclave to elect the next Pope. There will now be no Briton in the Sistine Chapel when voting takes place. O'Brien's early resignation is believed to have been at the personal insistence of Benedict XVI, in one of his last acts as Pope.The Cardinal denies the allegations, whose publication has been carefully timed – but his decision will remind the cardinals meeting in Rome next month that allegations against its clergy have now permeated the entire institution.
The next Pope's first priority must be to restore confidence in the sexual probity of the Church. Who on earth is going to be able to do that?
Watch out for real fireworks in Scotland, where tribal Catholicism is dying off. Cardinal O'Brien was a firebrand on the subject of gay sex and the unsuitability of homosexuals for clerical office; his counterpart in Glasgow, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, is even more outspoken, recently suggesting that a Scottish MP's death was hastened by his homosexuality.
If the charges against O'Brien have any substance to them, then the public credibility of the Scottish Catholic Church will collapse. And the rejoicing of the enemies of conservative Catholicism, who are especially vocal in Scotland, will be deafening.
I spent a part of my life working for a gold mine in which I had to baby sit what were essentially huge pressure cookers. There was an optimum amount of pressure at which the extraction of gold from the concentrate worked best. Part of my job was to monitor that pressure. If the pressure got too high a 'pop off' valve would burst and we would have a huge mess. The only thing we could do was shut down the pumps and wait for the pressure to blow off. Since part of the process involved cyanide, depending on where the condensed steam dropped, we would have to evacuate the plant which in turn meant shutting down the mills. Needless to say, no body appreciated it when one of us working that part of the plant lost control of our pressure cookers. It seems to me the Vatican under the last two popes have created a monstrous pressure cooker and have lost control, the pop off valve has blown, and the evacuations are commencing.
I can appreciate that a conservative like Damian Thompson is truly afraid of what Cardinal O'Brien's resignation portends for conservative Catholicism. I don't think he begins to understand how much pressure conservative Catholicism places on it's clergy. The biggest forces driving this pressure are sexual purity codes and a concept of priesthood that demands perfection from imperfect men. Eventually something had to blow because when the expectations don't meet performance, and those same expectations mitigate against personal honesty, the pressure keeps building and building. Powerful blocked forces will always seek an outlet for expression. It is almost impossible to reverse this process once it has begun. It's time the Church step back and assess the sources of the pressure. It's time to turn off the pumps, let the pressure expend itself, and start over.
Ironically Cardinal O'Brien gave an interview last week in which he correctly targeted one of the sources of excess pressure and that is the celibate nature of the priesthood. If it's true the God writes straight with crooked lines, then God truly has his hand on Cardinal O'Brien's. Enforced celibacy does not work well at all for most priests, and neither does the emphasis on sexual purity for laity, gay or straight. It's one thing to teach that sexuality is a gift from God and should be treated as such, it's another thing entirely to mandate conformance to the minutia of Catholic sexual teaching on secular societies. Cardinal O'Brien was a very outspoken agitator in the Church's crusade to bring secular culture in line with Catholic sexual teaching. Unfortunately for him, the time for this kind of pressure is long past. It's no longer a time for legislating rules, it's a time for modeling and mentoring a more evolved sexual ethic which places the dignity of the other in the place of prominence. This is where society is moving and this is why his alleged behavior would have been severely punished in secular society. Sexually harassing supervisors are no longer tolerated in secular society. Sexual encounters based in power differentials are no longer tolerated in secular society. Whatever one might want to say about the sexual mores between consenting adults, sex as an exercise of power is now taboo. To me this is real progress up the sexual evolutionary ladder, but it's a concept almost totally foreign to a sexual ethic based solely in biological procreation. This is another lesson in the Cardinal O'Brien story, and one I think he himself actually understands.
When one's Catholicism demands perfection from others while compartmenalizing one's own imperfection there is eventually going to be serious problems. These problems may not manifest in the individual themselves, but they will most certainly manifest in any organization that person belongs to and feels the right to critique. Both of the recent popes have allowed one small minority of very conservative Catholics to twist the Church to their own needs. I don't doubt for one second that those needs corresponded on some level with the needs of both popes, but this isn't a healthy direction for most of the Church. Catholicism needs to step back and do some serious evaluation. The 'reform of the reform' set a series of expectations in motion that have finally over pressured the entire Catholic system. That seriously needs to be looked at because our priesthood is paying the heaviest price.
We are not done with the revelations. Once this phenomenon starts it can't be stopped. In the end this will be a good thing for the Church, but right now it is utterly disheartening. Exactly as it was for me when one day I came out of the control room to see a monstrous cloud of cyanide steam enveloping my area. I thank God that in three + years it only happened once. I learned to keep a very close eye on the pressure gauges.