I’D love to weigh in to the whole debate about the morals of the Catholic Church with a personal story, but having never been a bloke or taught by nuns, or in fact a Catholic, I find myself at a loss to jump on that particular bandwagon.
However as I’ve never knowingly let two good bandwagons go past without at least attempting a foothold on one, here’s my godforsaken tuppenceworth on the impact of Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s resignation in the wake of allegations of “inappropriate” acts.
O’Brien had always seemed to me to be a fairly ordinary bloke, admittedly with a penchant for a cassock, who could have a drink and a laugh and who seemed to have at least a sympathetic understanding of the pressures of modern life. Until he got the red cap. Then, like Tony Blair on entering Number 10, rather than changing the church from within thanks to his position of immense power, he let the office of Cardinal change him.
Those who thought his increasingly hardline pronouncements on abortion, contraception for teenagers, and homosexuality might be gently rewound as he grew into the Cardinal’s robes, were left disappointed. The liberalism (as far as it went) he’d espoused in previous years was left behind as the powerful hand of the Vatican tightened its grip. His provocative statements made the faithful began to feel that the he was becoming out of touch.
And now, just as the back-slapping and renditions of for-he’s-a-jolly-good-fellow were about to begin as his retirement loomed, he’s been undone by allegations of inappropriate conduct from 30 years ago. Of course he may well be entirely innocent, but if not, then he must have been living in fear of this moment.
For it was bound to happen. The voices of those too long kept hushed by the more powerful within the Catholic Church have for some time been refusing to be quietened. There now cannot be a man within that religious organisation who has indulged in any kind of unpriestly behaviour be it with a woman or a man – or worse with a child – who is not now expecting to be exposed. This of course is a good thing. For it means that victims of abuse have become increasingly brave because they are much more likely to be believed.
And with that belief comes demands for action. The Catholic Church knows to its cost the damage to its reputation for its failure to act on widespread child abuse. The Cardinal’s resignation now is an indication that no-one is immune from investigation and, if proven guilty of allegations, potential consequences. That has to be a positive move.
Of course the shock of the allegations against O’Brien are still resounding throughout the Catholic community. The faithful, already dumbfounded at the idea of a Pope resigning, are now reeling at the idea that the leader of their church in Scotland may be less than a paragon of virtue. They are looking for answers, and now for new leaders. What they don’t want or need is the same-old, same-old. They’re don’t need priests who refuse to believe their congregations have minds of their own, who refuse to accept that most of those in church on Sundays are using contraception, have perhaps been through the appalling process of abortion, are grappling with the idea that voluntary euthanasia could be warranted in some cases, who believe that allowing two people who want to marry even if they are of the same gender won’t stop the world from turning.
The Catholic Church is a broad kirk. I know this because, dear reader, I’m married to a Catholic, my children attend Catholic school, and the views I hear from them are not those of the Cardinal or Rome – they are of ordinary people trying to make sense of how to live their lives, who look for a little spritual guidance to help them continue to believe they’re good people, and who go to church on Sundays because it’s tradition and makes them feel part of the community.
They are Christians of the live and let live variety.
There are also those with similar feelings within the church itself. The priest who married us was extremely relaxed about my lack of belief in his church’s viewpoint on women rights, abortion and many other issues, but he was more than happy to conduct our service.
I was also greatly relieved to discover that the priest at our local church also had a more worldly view of life – he even refused to read out the fire and brimstone letter on same-sex marriage that Cardinal O’Brien had demanded every congregation hear last year, and instead gave a sermon questioning whether one minority should really be attacking another. Unfortunately he’s now gone and apparently the congregation is given a weekly dose of doctrine. You are Catholic, so this is what you must think. Unsurprisingly, there are many unhappy with this.
Even O’Brien seems to have accepted this in his recent comments that priests should be able to marry – a policy based on economics rather than the Bible. It’s a shame he did little about that while in office.
But his resignation could be the catalyst the Catholic Church in Scotland needs to move forward. And perhaps it’s for that which his tenure will eventually be remembered.