U.K.’s Top Cardinal Resigns Amid Sexual Harassment Complaints From Priests

Jim Burroway

February 25th, 2013

On Saturday, the U.K.’s Observer reported that three priests and one former priest came forward to accuse Britain’s most senior Archbishop, Keith Cardinal O’Brien of Scotland, of “inappropriate behavior” spanning thirty years. O’Brien denied the allegations, but then the church released a statement this morning saying that O’Brien resigned a week ago on February 18.

Yeah right. How much you wanna bet that resignation was back-dated?

On Saturday, the Observer reported:

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.”

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.

The four submitted their complaints to the papal nuncio in Britain, Antonio Mennini, a week before Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation. As Cardinal, O’Brien was preparing to fly to Rome to participate in the conclave to elect a new pope. Observers note that he skipped the celebration of mass at  St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday.

Last year, Cardinal O’Brien stirred controversy over an op-ed published in The Telegraph in which he described the proposal to implement marriage equality a “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right” and compared same-sex marriage to slavery:

Disingenuously, the Government has suggested that same-sex marriage wouldn’t be compulsory and churches could choose to opt out. This is staggeringly arrogant.

No Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage.

Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that “no one will be forced to keep a slave”.

Would such worthless assurances calm our fury? Would they justify dismantling a fundamental human right? Or would they simply amount to weasel words masking a great wrong?

Soon after, in an interview with BBC Radio 4, O’Brien defended those remarks, saying “I think it’s a very, very good example of what might happen on our own country in the present time.” In November, U.K.’s gay rights group Stonewall awarded O’Brien with the Bigot of the Year Award.

Ben in Oakland

February 25th, 2013

Allegations going back 30 years. Four complaints coming up at once, right about the time the cardinal is resigning. The top catholic in Britain, who has made a point of his antipathy.

Is it just me, or is this either absolutely a nothing, or far bigger than it appears?

Priya Lynn

February 25th, 2013

“Imagine for a moment that the Government had decided to legalise slavery but assured us that “no one will be forced to keep a slave”.”.

That’s a false analogy because the slave is harmed by slavery but no one is harmed by a same sex couple marrying.

Bill T.

February 25th, 2013

“Inappropriate behavior” warrants a resignation, but “obstruction of justice” is rewarded with a trip to Rome. This is a case of cherry-picking Christians cherry-picking the law. Hypocrites and vipers!


February 25th, 2013

According to the Guardian article, the complaints were submitted to the Vatican before the pope’s resignation, that is, in early February. So it’s possible that O’Brien already got wind of it then. And he would have had to resign in March anyway, due to the mandatory retirement age.


February 25th, 2013

Another money quote from O’Brien’s editorial:

Those of us who were not in favour of civil partnership, believing that such relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved…


February 25th, 2013

It strikes me that the reason so many rabidly anti-gay people believe that homosexuality is at best inappropriate and at worst dirty, disgusting and denigrating is because all of the gay sex that they’ve ever had WAS inappropriate, dirty, disgusting and/or denigrating. When you are a self-hating closet case you tend to have sleazy, secretive and degrading sex and you often have it in locations and situations that are inappropriate. So then they come to believe that what they do is what it means to be gay. I think that this theory is backed up by the testimony of so many “ex-gay” people who tell horror stories about THEIR experiences in “the gay lifestyle” seemingly clueless that it wasn’t a “gay lifestyle” at all but rather THEIR personal lifestyle and choices that they came to hate. Homosexuality and “gay” become scapegoats for their unhappiness with their life choices and their personal lack of self-respect.

Priya Lynn

February 25th, 2013

Very insightful, Zeke.


February 25th, 2013

Hypocrisy? It’s not like he wanted to marry them.


February 25th, 2013

(Surpressing schadenfreude…)

George Hackett

February 26th, 2013

It amazes me. Here are 3 priests and one former priest, (whatever that is?) Once a priest always a priest. Where have they been for 30 yrs. What a total crock. It also does not matter to Cardinal O’Brien, he will be retiring in one month because of age.
The reporting priests should be interrogated and eventually defrocked.

At to Gay priests, there are over 50% of the Priests who are GAY. It does not matter. Live and Let Live.


February 26th, 2013

@TampaZeke. “Inappropriate” applies whenever a person in a posiiton of authority makes a sexual advance to a person under their authority. That is true whatever the setting — business, church, government, education — and whatever the gender of the persons involved.

It is always the responsibility of the more powerful person in the relationship to monitor and control his/her behavior as the less powerful person will wonder if they can say “no” without being subject to negative consequences.

So Mr. O’Brien’s behavior was inappropriate not only because of the Catholic church’s rules on priestly celibacy and teaching on homosexuality, but because he was in the more powerful position. If three nuns and a former nun had made the same allegations, it would be inappropriate, too. In business, this is called sexual harassment.

Timothy Kincaid

February 26th, 2013

Oh now don’t be snarky. He really just resigned to pursue other opportunities and to spend more time with his family.

Timothy Kincaid

February 26th, 2013

“It strikes me that the reason so many rabidly anti-gay people believe that homosexuality is at best inappropriate and at worst dirty, disgusting and denigrating is because all of the gay sex that they’ve ever had WAS inappropriate, dirty, disgusting and/or denigrating.”

worth repeating

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