By David Gibson, RNS
If you want a crash course on how papal politics really works, look no further than the saga of Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
On Friday, Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric grabbed headlines by telling the BBC that priestly celibacy was “not of divine origin” and that he’d be “happy” if priests had the option to marry.
On Saturday, O’Brien was back in the news, this time after four men reportedly accused him of “inappropriate acts” dating back to the 1980s.
By Monday, O’Brien had resigned as archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh and announced he would skip the conclave.
From champion of married priests to disgraced churchman within 72 hours, O’Brien’s trajectory is stunning but also emblematic of the frenetic and fever-pitched campaigning that occurs during the tiny window between a pope’s death or resignation and the election of his successor.
The interregnum lasts a few weeks at most, when church leaders and various interest groups can openly voice their views to try to influence the future course of Roman Catholicism. It is also a time when the media act as the chief means for vetting any potential candidate whose track record, views and character might otherwise remain a mystery to the public and even many of his fellow cardinals.
If the process is far less expensive and not quite as mind-numbing as the slog of a U.S. presidential campaign, the condensed papal version is not much gentler, or necessarily more effective. Instead it can be nasty, brutish and short.