Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigns amid sex abuse allegations

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Keith O'Brien in 2007.
Image: Gavin Scott.

Following accusations that he engaged in "inappropriate acts" with three priests and a former priest, Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned yesterday from his post as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. O'Brien had been expected to take part in the papal conclave to decide the next Pope and to retire shortly thereafter.

O'Brien had tendered a resignation to the Pope nunc pro tunc (now for later) on November 13. He stated yesterday that it had taken effect: "The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today, 25 February 2013, and that he will appoint an apostolic administrator to govern the archdiocese in my place until my successor as archbishop is appointed."

The sexual abuse allegations were published in The Observer and stem from incidents alleged to have happened as long as three decades ago. The former priest alleges O'Brien approached him inappropriately when he was a seminarian at St Andrew's College in Drygrange in 1980. The former priest claims his resignation from the priesthood was the result of O'Brien's elevation 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."

The three priests allege they were also the subject of unwanted sexual advances from O'Brien. The four complained to Antonio Mennini, the Vatican's ambassador to Britain. After the story was made public on Sunday, the Vatican confirmed Pope Benedict had been made aware of the complaints.

O'Brien disputes the allegations. Following the publication of the allegations, he chose not to preside over Mass on Sunday. The auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Bishop Stephen Robson, gave a statement: "A number of allegations of inappropriate behaviour have been made against the cardinal. The cardinal has sought legal advice and it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. There will be further statements in due course. As always in times of need such as this we cannot but be saddened by the events of the last 24 hours. It is to the Lord that we turn now in times of need."

The cardinal had been outspoken in his condemnation of proposals to legalise same-sex marriage, calling it a "grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right", and saying gay relationships are "harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved". Last year, the gay rights charity Stonewall awarded O'Brien the title of "bigot of the year".

The gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell described O'Brien as "hypocritical": "He appears to have preached one thing in public while doing something different in private. Several other prominent opponents of equal marriage are guilty of double standards and vulnerable to similar exposure. They include anti-gay clergy and politicians. It is estimated that around 40% of Catholic priests in Britain are gay, which makes the church’s opposition to gay equality so two-faced and absurd."

O'Brien has questioned whether the continued requirement that priests be celibate and unmarried should continue. In an interview with BBC Scotland, he said: "There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church — in some branches of the Catholic church — priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine of origin and it could get discussed again."