AN UNEXPECTED CRUCIFIXION
During Lent, a scandal of enormous importance rocked the Church in Scotland. Cardinal Keith O’Brian, the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in Britain and leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, had expected to be in Rome electing the next Pope. Now he is in disgrace and, having resigned as Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, the Cardinal is somewhere out of the country.
As I write, we still don’t know exactly what he did some thirty years ago. However, he has admitted to sexual misconduct with fellow priests. Questions are abounding as to why it has taken thirty years for such allegations to be made and who has known about them all that time. As head of his denomination, the Cardinal has been vociferous in attacking plans of the British and Scottish Government for gay marriage stating that it was evidence for the “degeneration of society into immorality”. Sadly, it is little wonder that the charge of hypocrisy has quickly hit the headlines and the media has made much of their so-called ‘crisis’ to hit the Catholic Church.
I say, sadly; because Cardinal O’Brian is essentially a good and genuine man of faith. Having met him on numerous official occasions, I have always found him to be courteous, self-effacing, generous with his time and eager to listen to a different perspective. Struggling with ill-health and having all but reached his seventyfifth birthday, he was within a month of retirement when this tragedy struck. But struck it has and his personal humiliation and disgrace is enormous. Once a new Pope has been elected, it is possible that O’Brian’s downfall may then be made total should he be dismissed from the College of Cardinals.
Giles Fraser, the Anglican cleric who resigned as Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral in protest to how his colleagues dealt with protesters camping on the cathedral steps, posed the question on BBC’s Thought for the Day programme why it is that all the Churches – and not just the Roman Catholic Church – seem to attract within their ministry so many gay men and women who are, themselves, so virulently hostile to homosexuality. Fraser went on to quote a tweet he received from the novelist Roz Kaveney which said, “I feel sorry for O’Brian. I hope that one day he realises that the sense of sexual sinfulness the Catholic Church forced upon him was, itself, an abuse.
I think I agree with that.
I believe the Cardinal’s fall from grace has had something to do with his secret shame about being gay – a sense of shame that has been his own private torture – as he has continued in a position whereby he has found himself made the public voice of that very theology by which he has known himself condemned as a victim. Where I have not always agreed with the Cardinal has been in the manner of his public denunciation, particularly with the harsh and unforgiving language used, to convey his Church’s opposition to gay people themselves. Right at its heart, the Christian Gospel teaches that the grace, love and forgiveness of God is for all people regardless of all and every barrier humanity insists in building to separate us one from the other whether because of creed, colour, education or poverty.
Many within our society may find that almost impossible to accept. But that is why I, too, hope and pray with Roz Kaveney and Giles Fraser that, in time, Cardinal O’Brian will eventually be able to be helped to distinguish between his sexuality on the one hand and his seeming hypocritical responses on the other – and not see all of it as a sin.
WHAT POSSIBILITY OF RESURRECTION ?
Cardinal O’Brian will never again take part in public life. That is for sure. But can some positive good yet come from this ?
Though it is doubtful that this situation in Scotland will change the minds of ‘conservative’ catholic prelates from countries throughout Africa, Asia and Australasia, the election of a new Pope does provide the opportunity for all Churches to stand together with our Roman Catholic brethren in tackling the culture of fear and secrecy that surrounds this human issue and enable us all to speak courteously, openly and honestly with society about the Church’s attitude to sex in general and homosexuality in particular. Homosexuality and the Holy Ministry will be debated yet again at the General Assembly of our own Church in May this year. We need to be alert to what has happened within the Catholic branch of our family and, with humility, learn lessons of Christian faith and human compassion regarding our own scenario.
What happens over the next few months will bear witness to just how Christ-centred our faith actually is and how humane we all really are.
Minister of Bothwell.