Cardinal Keith O Brien has resigned. This is making the news, as well it should. In the last week, the Observer reports that he has been accused by four men - three priests and the fourth a former priest - of having made inappropriate approaches to them. He has now resigned and it is difficult to read that resignation as anything other than an acknowledgement of the truth of the stories of the four men. In his statement at resignation, the Cardinal apologised to any people he had let down. His resignation had already been tendered in advance of the story coming to light.
What to think in light of this?
I think of the four men who told their stories and many others whose telling may have been ignored. It takes courage to speak the truth. While some may accuse them of having anti-church agendas, I think it is best to assume that their agendas are simply pro-truth. The Cardinal and his abusive power at one point may have dominated their relationship with the Catholic Church, but he no longer does so. They can, if they choose, continue a relationship with their faith without the powerful presence of a man who denied truths about himself while proscribing oppressive untruths about LGBT people.
And Cardinal O Brien did say untrue things about Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people - he has compared equal marriage, which he calls grotesque, to slavery and suggested that it is a pathway towards paedophilia. In his view same-sex relationships are harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of people.
His resignation may be a relief for anybody whose life was directly or indirectly impacted by his harsh words. However, I worry. I worry that some will see his secretive, powerful and shameful advances on his four accusers as universally demonstrative of all gay male behaviours. I worry that entrenched viewpoints about gay male behaviour will only be strengthened by the public disgrace of a previous hero.
And it is always about gay men isn’t it? Is it that female couples are not considered a threat?
One of the accusers had resigned as a priest when Cardinal O Brien was made Bishop - and it is a good thing that a powerful role within the Catholic Church has been opened to the truth of a hidden story. Again though, I worry that Cardinal O Brien, once the posterpriest for an oppressive moral outlook, will now be considered the hypocrite whose sexual secrets define a group of people his public words previously lambasted. LGBT people were misrepresented by his public words, and we may now be misrepresented by the revelations of his scandal. It is bad news one way or another.
He is likely to be considered the a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But this is not true. There is a wolf hiding, but the wolf is not a secretive priest. The wolf is an entirely different phenomenon. The wolf is abusive power. Power itself is amoral and it is the wielding of power that determines its morality. Cardinal O Brien is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing because he is privately a sexually immature gay man who holds public office. It is the awful usage of power that is wolvish. I wish he had lived in such a way that this was not news. But he didn’t. I will be so disappointed if this news is taken as carte blanche to ravage the private lives of people who are living with integrity. There are many LGBT people in faith communities who live the narrow path of creating generous places for people within a hostile structure. Now the private lives of many people will be decried because Cardinal O Brien has failed to embody the integrity, morality and sexual maturity that should be the benchmark of every adult relationship. Curiously, many same sex couples have been the demonstrators of a moral life the capacity and legal possibility for which the Cardinal has stridently opposed.
If I could dream a past for him, I would dream a past for Cardinal O Brien where he could have told the truth about himself, and where he would have had real options to explore private and public life that were in harmony with each other, each demonstrating the integrity necessary to each. He did not take this opportunity. Furthermore he denied this opportunity to many others, both in his private actions and his very public role.
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