Sunday, February 24, 2013

Another Cardinal, Another Abuse Story

The following story brings up memories of the George Reker mess, or Marcial Maciel for that matter.  The story is believable if one ascribes to Richard Sipe's theories of clerical grooming, and unfortunately most likely true, given there are four accusers.  It will be interesting to see how Pope Benedict handles this or if he pushes it off on his successor.  Cardinal O'Brien did not attend the mornings Mass at his cathedral.  He was supposed to give a farewell homily for Pope Benedict.  The UK's Guardian Observer broke this story yesterday and it has gone viral.

UK's top cardinal accused of 'inappropriate acts' by priests

Cardinal Keith O'Brien
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Britain's most senior Catholic clergyman. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Three priests and a former priest in Scotland have reported the most senior Catholic clergyman in Britain, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, to the Vatican over allegations of inappropriate behaviour stretching back 30 years.
The four, from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, have complained to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican's ambassador to Britain, and demanded O'Brien's immediate resignation. A spokesman for the cardinal said that the claims were contested.

O'Brien, who is due to retire next month, has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights, condemning homosexuality as immoral, opposing gay adoption, and most recently arguing that same-sex marriages would be "harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved". Last year he was named "bigot of the year" by the gay rights charity Stonewall. (Hypocrite of the year may be more accurate.

One of the complainants, it is understood, alleges that the cardinal developed an inappropriate relationship with him, resulting in a need for long-term psychological counselling.
The four submitted statements containing their claims to the nuncio's office the week before Pope Benedict's resignation on 11 February. They fear that, if O'Brien travels to the forthcoming papal conclave to elect a new pope, the church will not fully address their complaints.
"It tends to cover up and protect the system at all costs," said one of the complainants. "The church is beautiful, but it has a dark side and that has to do with accountability. If the system is to be improved, maybe it needs to be dismantled a bit."

The revelation of the priests' complaints will be met with consternation in the Vatican. Allegations of sexual abuse by members of the church have dogged the papacy of Benedict XVI, who is to step down as pope at the end of this month. Following the announcement, rumours have swirled in Rome that Benedict's shock move may be connected to further scandals to come.
The four priests asked a senior figure in the diocese to act as their representative to the nuncio's office. Through this representative, the nuncio replied, in emails seen by the Observer, that he appreciated their courage.

It is understood that the first allegation against the cardinal dates back to 1980. The complainant, who is now married, was then a 20-year-old seminarian at St Andrew's College, Drygrange, where O'Brien was his "spiritual director". The Observer understands that the statement claims O'Brien made an inappropriate approach after night prayers.
The seminarian says he was too frightened to report the incident, but says his personality changed afterwards, and his teachers regularly noted that he seemed depressed. He was ordained, but he told the nuncio in his statement that he resigned when O'Brien was promoted to bishop. "I knew then he would always have power over me. It was assumed I left the priesthood to get married. I did not. I left to preserve my integrity." (Integrity, there's another word that apparently has no Latin translation.)

In a second statement, "Priest A" describes being happily settled in a parish when he claims he was visited by O'Brien and inappropriate contact between the two took place.

In a third statement, "Priest B" claims that he was starting his ministry in the 1980s when he was invited to spend a week "getting to know" O'Brien at the archbishop's residence. His statement alleges that he found himself dealing with what he describes as unwanted behaviour by the cardinal after a late-night drinking session.

"Priest C" was a young priest the cardinal was counselling over personal problems. Priest C's statement claims that O'Brien used night prayers as an excuse for inappropriate contact.
The cardinal maintained contact with Priest C over a period of time, and the statement to the nuncio's office alleges that he engineered at least one other intimate situation. O'Brien is, says Priest C, very charismatic, and being sought out by the superior who was supposed to be guiding him was both troubling and flattering.
Those involved believe the cardinal abused his position. "You have to understand," explains the ex-priest, "the relationship between a bishop and a priest. At your ordination, you take a vow to be obedient to him.
"He's more than your boss, more than the CEO of your company. He has immense power over you. He can move you, freeze you out, bring you into the fold … he controls every aspect of your life. You can't just kick him in the balls."

All four have been reluctant to raise their concerns. They are, though, concerned that the church will ignore their complaints, and want the conclave electing the new pope to be "clean". According to canon law, no cardinal who is eligible to vote can be prevented from doing so.


I'm beginning to think Robert Mickens observation that if all Cardinals who had allegations of covering up abuse, financial shenanigans, or sexual misdeeds were barred from the Conclave, it really could be held in a broom closet.

Richard Sipe has long maintained this is how business is done.  Bishops and Archbishops trolling the waters amongst the newly ordained or amongst seminarians to find appropriate candidates for 'personal secretaries' and other chancellery positions.  In 2008 he submitted a letter to Pope Benedict about another American Cardinal credibly accused of the same behavior as Cardinal Keith O'Brien. To this point the Vatican has not responded to any of the numerous reports about the behavior of this Cardinal and he too is eligible to vote in this upcoming Conclave.

I have read many many right wing comments that ascribe this kind of thing to the 'evil gays'.  In reality it's not about the evil gays so much as it is about the evil system that allows for and essentially promotes this kind of abusive activity by purposefully ignoring it.  And it is first and formost abusive because it is a willful exercise of supervisory power against a helpless subordinate.  Call it the Catholic Clerical form of the kind of sexual harassment many many female workers have endured under their own male bosses.  The major difference is this is occurring in an all male environment and by definition has to be homosexual.  Same sort of thing happens in prisons all the time.  It's predatory abusive sexuality that has a homosexual expression. In the Catholic clerical culture there are many other real pressures on these young men not to divulge what has happened so they know there is very little that will ever be officially done to their abusers.  It took 50 years for Maciel's abuse victims to finally be acknowledged.

I guess I think there is Karmic justice in these allegations against Cardinal O'Brien. His stunningly ignorant take on GLBT issues deserved a Karmic reply, very much like George Rekers got his own Karmic send up.  I personally am so glad GLBT people have made so many strides in the last twenty five years, because my hope is this kind of 'gay lobby' will no longer find a place to operate in a secret clerical system.  Gay men now have far more options than they had when being a priest was one of the few.  As much as conservatives want to rant and rant about the 'gay agenda' in society, I hope someday they understand that it is just this 'gay agenda' that will have been most responsible for stopping the abuse endemic to the clerical system.


 Cardinal O'Brien has resigned and will not be attending the Conclave.  His stated reason is not to distract from Pope Benedict XVI or the election of Benedict's successor.  He has not specifically responded to the allegations by the four men, but apologized for any wrongs he may have committed.  I have to wonder if American Cardinals Mahony and Rigali will take note.  At least Cardinal O'Brien got real about celibate clergy before his own alleged indiscretions underlined his point.


  1. The technology and the attitudes have changed in the past eight years. Cell phones snap photos, videos and even record long conversations. Even if the MSM keeps up the silence of the what goes on behinds rectory and chancery walls, those concentric walls of "Omerta" can not hold back too many secrets anymore. Which is why I commented over at Bilgrimage that I do not give the new pope two years before he considers and exit strategy not unlike Benedict's. New pope better have no baggage which I think is impossible considering the long trip up the mountain of career and power of clerics in the RCC. And then there is always the book deal for unsavory "friends" from the past. Cleaner than a baby's behind after its bath I think is impossible for any new pope to bring into this hours, years on the cross of papal power.

  2. I have often said beginning with JPII but true of each and every pope that he is not my pope as I did not elect him. It is true that I would in retrospect elect John XXIII. The Bishops, Cardinals and Popes are no more than politicians that should stand for re-election every 6 years and there should be a way to impeach them from below. Their ethics an morals are certainly no better than those who lead secular states. The word Magisterium was almost never used as I grew up in all my years of Catholic Education. Vatican II did point out that the Magisterium was tripartite- the Theologians that spent the their entire lives thinking and studying about God; the Bishops that would shepherd these thought to the people; and of course most importantly the people that must live by these ideas. It is only the symptomatic omnipotence of the bishops who believe that “they are the teachers and enforcers of morality.” Omnipotent thinking is a psychological symptom of emotional disturbance.

    The people of course are the most important part of any church because if ideas are not livable (such as those against birth control and inequality of people) , then the people of the church have not only the right but the responsibility to reject them. I reject the Roman Catholic Leadership, the people who are leading and the structure by which they are selected. This pope and the next one is not my pope and neither were many of the ones in my life time. Yet I am a catholic as all my years of upbringing and all the critical thinking taught to me by Jesuits, Benedictines and the Sisters of Charity are a huge part of my life. So I firmly reject the magic thinking of Bishops who believe that past theological thought is at all infallible because our human minds are so very finite that our God given talents force us each generation to revisit the ethics of our moral beliefs.

    I like all other humans do not have The truth or The answers and this is what makes the idea of an infallible Magisterium only magical, narcissistic, or at times psychotic thinking. dennis

  3. Robert Mickens also accurately notes the Vatican is crumbling around the Curia, and he gets dissed by the right wingers for stating the obvious.

  4. That was fast!

    The Whirlpool that is the Vatican cesspool is picking up speed! The Cardinal has resigned!!!!What's next?

    Stay tuned....

  5. Without addressing the veracity of the allegations, I must say I find that the timing is highly suspect and has all of the earmarks of a political hit. Now, the Vatican is saying he resigned a week before the Observer article went to press. How....convenient.

  6. He got sand bagged once he used the "C" word Celibacy and the "W" word too I think - Women. They are using rubber bullets at the moment and not live ammunition. Forced to fall on a sword or drink a John Paul I milkshake for the good of the other boys on the team.

  7. I kind of doubt it Tim. The accusers say they came forward now (again actually) because they felt it was hypocritical of O'Brien to vote for the next pope. I don't think it really had anything to do with O'Brien's interview backing married priests and a more active place for women.

    On the other hand, O'Brien may have precisely given that interview knowing it was his last chance to say anything meaningful before the axe dropped. That kind of timing I could more easily buy.

  8. I guess I'm a more hopeful conspiracy theorist. I think O'Brien gave the interview he did because he knew the axe was about to fall. Surely the OD types can have a field day, but I don't want to believe O'Brien did anything more than give one last hurrah.

    Perhaps my tin hat is out of kilter. LOL

  9. That's a great definition of the three prong Magisterium.

    Dennis I am truly at a loss as to how infallibility became the magical concept it is now. This is not what Vatican II taught and in point of fact is almost the opposite. It does fit the 'simple people' Pope Benedict felt the True Catholic was or should be. As far as the self proclaimed 'True Catholics' act, he was unfortunately correct. Even more unfortunately, members of the hierarchy are cracking under the psychological load incurred by teaching what they neither practice nor believe.

  10. I was thinking about the technology thing as well. With cell phone cameras everywhere, it's hard to believe anyone could be dumb enough to think they could engage in some clandestine sexual fling. At work, we've lost grave yard staff to resident clients who photographed these staff sleeping on the job. Paybacks are a you know what.

    I agree the new pope better have no baggage. Schonborn, Tagle, and Braz de Aviz must be climbing up the odds boards.

  11. The right wingers are in panic mode now. See today's post.

  12. Wasn't it though which is in and of itself a sort of confirmation of the veracity of the charges--given that Mahony and Rigalli are still marchin' on.

  13. Interestingly, a lot of clerical abusers don't think of power in the sense you discussed it above. Not that I'm saying it *isn't* an abuse of power on their part, but apparently many of them think the victim is fully capable of giving consent.

    Also interestingly is the concept of a legalistic take on morality. There's been a lot of talk about how Catholic sexual morality/ethics needs to change, in terms of issues such as contraception, but little discussion about how the current morality structure is contributing to abuse within the Church. Specifically, if you use a legalistic morality, then much like a defense lawyer with the law you can "negotiate" with that morality, finding loopholes or whatnot, that somehow in the end "permit" the abuse. The issue is of course that with all that legal-style negotiating, the impact of the abuse on the victim and on society is able to be ignored. It might be high time the Church rethinks this style of morality.

    Lastly, as a people, I'd love to see us stop defaulting to the "predatory priest (or cardinal)" stereotype. It is fundamentally a media-generated concept, and doesn't help us at all in the discussion of these issues or figuring out how to tackle all the systemic issues (some of which you did bring up here). At the end of the day we rarely hear from the abuser, so we don't really know why they ended up committing the crime(s) they did. And in this particular case, I notice that folks are assuming a "guilty until proven innocent" stance which, while it very well might turn out to be the case, is really not how we as society have agreed to treat others. Let's start asking the tough questions when stories like this come out, and start helping to change the discussion so that the necessary changes to prevent this ever happening again can actually be determined and put into effect.

  14. That was a John Paul I injection!!

  15. I'm not sure it was an injection. One of his housekeepers said she smelled almonds in his room that night. She thought he was drinking almond tea. Cyanide smells just like almonds, and I should know.

  16. Interesting about firing graveyard shift employees for sleeping. I've never worked on or heard about a graveyard shift job in my life where the staff didn't have a system that allowed people to sleep during their shifts, either during breaks or on the clock.