Monday, February 25, 2013

Conservatives Circle The Wagons Now That Another Of Their Champions Has Fallen On His Crozier

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.


  1. Super post, Colleen!

    Yes, the pressure cooker has blown a gasket!

    Seems to me the Spirit has given new meaning to the problem of trying to go back to "old wine skins."New wine-skins, please!

  2. While I never worked in anything as gritty as your job I did work in the office of a factory and was constantly running out to the factory floor to expedite orders for customers who needed parts the next day or their production lines would stop. The majority of my working life was in the back office of banks, insurance companies and a brokerage firm. And what I will say is that the back office keeps the company running. The front office can go off on tangents and waste time, money and vision while the back office keeps the engines running so to speak. In a way, the USA and the Vatican have been doing the Cold War in the front office since the 1980s while the back office has kept things going with or without meaningful leadership. There is a point when the back office breaks down, duplicates and goes off track. The company shuts down years after the front office went totally to pot. I think what we are seeing now in politics and religious Rome is something of that scenario. Quick fix PR slogans cannot save systems that need major overhaul and major realignment of vision for the company's overall sake and survival.

  3. There is a schizoid nature to celibacy. It keeps people apart from one and other and causes one not to be able to develop good interpersonal relationships. Perhaps there are some whose creativity flourishes under celibacy but one would wonder about early development. Enforced celibacy is a double whammy that has pointed to the error of authoritarians who would attempt to force this type of sexuality or purity on anyone. Faithful people and theologians spoke over 50 years ago about birth control and masterbation, yet the leadership of the church continue to attempt to enforce un enforceable rules. They have gone much further the past 10 years in attempting to tell gays to practice celibacy only and that by being gay they are disordered. The biggest disorder we have in the RCC is the authoritarianism of the leadership. dennis

  4. Celibacy really does seem to lead to a relational form of schizophrenia in too many religious. I too have had my run ins with drunk priests whose barriers have dropped, but I was past the conservative phase of my Catholic journey and took it with a grain of salt. That's after I saw to it that they were safely tucked in their celibate beds. I hope the other Cardinals heard O'Briens' take on celibacy because even though his behavior was abhorrent, it maybe had an effect on how he views the pitfalls of enforced celibacy.

    As to whether any of them are ready to address the truth of the gay orientation is a moot point. As long as Africa is seen as the last best place for spouting on and on about procreative sexual morality, we will see no meaningful change on that front. It would be nice if they just practiced silence on that issue.

  5. I can seriously relate Michael. One of the biggest problems we had at that mine, at least in our area which was highly technical, is that we were constantly being stuck with management who did not begin to understand the intricacies of the system. We had to keep things going in spite of that and that usually meant going around them to get anything done. Eventually this all added up to one big pressure explosion which came with in a whisker of precipitating a wild cat strike which would have involved 2200 employees and seven production areas.

    I learned a great deal about how dysfunctional systems work, and yet I was always cognizant of the fact my area represented the actual mechanics of dysfunctional social systems. But again, management let bad things continue until they were faced with a total company melt down. Catholicism seems to be in the exact same place, and as you write, it's taken years for this to happen in spite of the fact upper management showed their utter incompetence long ago.

  6. Old energy dies a very hard death. I'm still not sure the winemakers understand old wine-skins are not recyclable.

  7. Was O’Brien pushed out by Benedict at the last minuet?

    “Pushed” is implied in Damien Thomson’s account that you quote. His may be the one I saw earlier in the Telegraph that had me wondering. The account in the Guardian seemed to leave the impression that this was O’Brien’s decision.

    If Benedict pushed him, I would just say the old pope has been on gay witch hunt since he got the secret report from his cardinal investigators. He was never really very good on the gay issue. Lately he has been on a rant.

    It does not look like a smooth exit for Benedict.

  8. By schizoid, I mean more of personality disorder than schizophrenia. However most serious crimes are commited by people with axis II disorders rather than axis I disease. dennis

  9. Disqus is seriously slow today, so don't worry if your comment doesn't seem to post right away. Some parts of the system are working as usual, such as the fact my email tells me comments have been posted, but they are not showing up on the blog for about 45 minutes.

  10. My bad Dennis, this is definitely all Axis II stuff and although I knew what you meant I didn't come across particularly clear. And I think it's important to emphasize your distinction: An Axis I diagnosis is a disease, Axis II are personality disorders.

  11. Maybe, but there are American Cardinals he has known about for much longer and they are still babbling away, and one will vote in the Conclave.
    I can see where the publicity brought on Benedict accepting the resignation post haste, but I'd like to believe at least one Cardinal had the personal integrity to bite the bullet. But then again, I have already written my tin hat might be slightly askew.

  12. Yes, but cardinals like Mahoney were covering up child molestation. I am aware of bishops in the US -- Knoxville and Owensboro--whose bishops resigned amid similar accusations. Seems to me like a double standard. Mahoney should leave the conclave. If Bernie Law was not 81 and denied a vote he should be right behind Mahoney.

    Will Benedict or his successor get rid of bishops like Finn?

  13. I'm not talking about Mahony or Law, I'm talking about two other Cardinals who have engaged in the same behavior as O'Brien is alleged to have engaged in. One is referred to as Uncle Ted, and the other as Donna.

    As for Mahony, Law, and Finn, I seriously doubt anything will be done about them because Benedict has only asked for resignations from bishops when they personally have engaged in sexual behavior that has made the mainstream press. And on top of that, he believes a Cardinal has an obligation to be present and vote at a Conclave no matter what. It is up to individual Cardinals to recuse themselves.

  14. All I know is that each week, the congregation seems even smaller than it used to be. Unfortunately, the Vatican is not getting the message and is blaming the press and anti-Catholicism when the Vatican functionaries should be looking in the mirror to see their own worst enemies.

  15. I've concluded that the Vatican response is related to bad publicity. Gays and women priests... that's really, really bad! (in their eyes) And 4 charges is pretty hard to refute. But covering up for pedophilia? Why that's protection, you see. (in their eyes) The cover-up is "good" but gays and women having dignity, power... oops! (Very sad...)

  16. "Watch out for real fireworks in Scotland, where tribal Catholicism is dying off."

    ## If "tribal Catholicism" is dying off, that is good news. The term is - or it should be - an oxymoron.

    "If the charges against O'Brien have any substance to them, then the public credibility of the Scottish Catholic Church will collapse."

    ## I sincerely hope they are baseless - the timing is suspicious, to say the least. The credibility of the CC, in Scotland or elsewhere, has already collapsed. They may well be further revelations, but they cannot destroy any further a credibility that is already a thing of the past. I doubt this is really a big deal, even though the CC in Scotland is rather small. I don't think allowing priests to marry would solve anything - it would probablyreplace one set of problems with another. Changing rules is too superficial - the sickness is deeper than that. Legalism cannot save the Church.

    "And the rejoicing of the enemies of conservative Catholicism, who are especially vocal in Scotland, will be deafening."

    ## "Conservative Catholicism" means several things, some more benign than others. If it means the "religion" that rejoices at the faults of others, and gleefully points at their weaknesses & sins, particularly in the hope of diverting attention from its own, then the sooner it perishes altogether, the better.

    If from the collapse of the Church a Christian Church emerges, something good will have come from the wreckage. The CC may have to die. If it does not, it cannot be raised from the dead. IMO it has been trying extremely hard to avoid dying to itself - but if individuals have to, so must it. There is no Resurrection, without the Cross first; not for any one - certainly not for a Church that is far from sinless.

  17. O'brien is not a conservative, he's a progressive who is now advocating for a married clergy. Additionally, the very liberal Benedict XVI has made it known that he expects O'Brien and Mahoney to participate in the upcoming, conclave. Here's hoping for an extended period of Sede Vacante; hopefully long enough to purge these sorts of rascals from the Curia.

  18. 5th priest's complaint against Cardinal O'Brien

    On Friday The Scotsman newspaper reported that the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien was triggered by a claim of "inappropriate acts" towards a 5th priest which occurred in 2001, that was made directly to the Vatican in October. This is the most recent alleged act, because the four others published last Sunday in the Observer, took place in the 1980s.
    This complaint is said to have given other men confidence to come forward with their allegations against the cardinal.

  19. I saw this yesterday Chris. I knew there had to be more men, and I'm sure more will come forward. I've done more research on O'Brien and it sure does look like the trads silenced him and shoved him in the closet on many issues. It appears the man made a career of being very conflicted on a number of issues.

    How many more of these clerical men do we have to have who demonstrate what happens when a man can't 'fess up to or allow themselves to deal with, issues like their own homosexuality. I can see why so many are so mysoginistic. They hate and blame women for the fact women aren't attractive to them. It can't be them, it must the fault of women. So they attempt to bonk another priest, who after all shares their same exalted status, and just happen to be men.