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Cardinal O’Brien – What’s the Real Issue?

By Peter Ould

Extraordinary news this weekend as Cardinal O’Brien, the most senior Roman Catholic priest in the United Kingdom, admitted “ there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”. The response from some parts of the media has been almost gleeful.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who was forced to resign by the pope last week, has made a dramatic admission that he was guilty of sexual misconduct throughout his career in the Roman Catholic church.
In a short but far-reaching statement issued late on Sunday, the 74-year-old stated that “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”.
 
The former archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and until recently the most senior Catholic in Britain, apologised and asked for forgiveness from those he had “offended” and from the entire church.
O’Brien’s much wider admissions are a significant rebuff to some senior figures in the Scottish church who had repeatedly downplayed the allegations disclosed in the Observer, calling them unsubstantiated, non-specific and anonymous.
 
The cardinal’s office warned the Observer it faced legal action after it first contacted him. In further disclosures this weekend, the Observer reported that one complainant had alleged: “He started fondling my body, kissing me and telling me how special I was to him and how much he loved me.”
 
In a fresh interview with the Observer, the former priest, who made his complaint to the nuncio in early February, said that after his disclosures he sensed “the cold disapproval of the church hierarchy for daring to break ranks. I feel [that] if they could crush me, they would.”
 
O’Brien’s resignation was remarkable in its speed; his apology is all but unprecedented in its frankness. Many sexual scandals or allegations of misconduct against individuals or the wider church have dragged on for years.
What to make of all this? A number of thoughts.
 
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