Cardinal’s Sin

Not all media atheists are hectoring millionaire graceless miserabilists, and not all Rangers fans are dyed-in-the-wool anticatholics. I mention these encouraging facts in an attempt to illuminate the travails of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, accused of “fumblings” back in the 80’s, and now subjected to trial by media speculation and rapidly, condemnation.

Between starting this post in draft and now, more has come to light, though not much, and I doubt there’s any good reason why it should . The upshot of it all is that the cardinal seems to have had, decades ago, attempts at homosexual experiences. There may be more to it, but the worst thing about it so far is that he was allegedly making unwelcome advances on fellow clergy. That is indeed corrupting and destabilising, though it’s worthy of note that three out of the four went on to become – and stay – ordained.

Here’s the atheist*:

What did Cardinal Keith O’Brien do that was so bad? He is alleged to have made inappropriate advances to young men when he was a teacher of priests in the 1980s. But is not a crime to make sexual advances to men over the age of 18. It is not child abuse (despite the best efforts of the press to lump O’Brien together with paedophile priests). Nor is what he is alleged to have done perverted in any way. It can at best be described as stupid – and if everyone in Britain who has ever done something stupid was thrown out of their jobs, the nation would grind to a halt.

Ah, but O’Brien’s alleged behaviour makes him a hypocrite, say his exposers in the liberal press as they desperately scrabble about for a PC justification for why they are depicting adult gay interaction as something sinister and sordid. Perhaps it does make him a hypocrite, given his current stance on homosexuality. But perhaps not. We know nothing of Cardinal O’Brien’s inner spiritual life. For all we know he may have spent the past 30-plus years repenting for that “inappropriate” behaviour in the Eighties, before deciding that, on balance, he thinks that homosexuality is wrong and wicked. People change. People regret. Would we say St Paul was a hypocrite for criticising those who attacked Christians even though he spent his early life doing the same thing?

And the Rangers fan**:

NO POPE in Rome, as the now-banned song might once have put it, and no Cardinal to sadden my eyes. Those Scots of the anti-Catholic persuasion, if such rare beasts still exist in this day and age, could be forgiven a wry smile at the travails of the grand old church as it comes to terms with the shock departure of its leaders both at home and at HQ. Even a surly old Rangers fan such as myself was sorry to see Keith Patrick O’Brien go – a transparently good and decent man, despite some of his more robust views

And the views of the various commenters on Fr Ray Blake’s excellent blog are worth perusing too. Given the Guardian and the BBC’s continuing delight in the cardinal’s downfall – compare its coverage with that of Sky, say – it’s true to say that the homophobe/hypocrite crowd are having a field day, but here’s the atheist again:

Those who brand anti-gay moralists as mentally disordered, as repressed, self-hating homosexuals, never stop to think that things might be more complicated than that – just as those who in the mid-20th century depicted homosexuality as a mental sickness never seemed to consider that it might actually be a perfectly normal aspect of human desire. In both instances, in both the branding of homosexuality and the labelling of homophobia as forms of inner neurosis, the aim is to deligitimise that which we do not like by effectively saying, “Oh, it’s just a kind of madness. Don’t engage with it – cure it.” That is a very cowardly approach to political and moral debate and to the existence of difference.

And one more point:

…accusations of sexual impropriety have become the key currency of political and moral infighting, the main means through which one dents institutions and people that one detests.

Consider how every sex scandal gets politicised, turned from something that exposes the moral depravity of one individual or a group of individuals into something which calls into question the entire culture and belief systems of institutions. So those of an anti-Catholic persuasion – ie virtually the entire English establishment – have turned the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church into a platform for attacking Catholicism itself. Everything from Catholic beliefs on sex and marriage to the existence of closed-off confessional booths has been made into part of the problem by abuse-watchers. That is, a scandal which exposed, rightfully, the wicked behaviour of some priests has been refashioned as a tool of ideological warfare against the Catholic faith, against a strain of theology that the Protestant-minded atheists of the literary and commentating sets have always found repulsive.

The Knife has had the pleasure of meeting the cardinal – a charming and eloquent man – and I have no problem squaring the possible sins with his recent comments on gay marriage etc. By a funny coincidence, I’ve also met the Papal Nuncio, Antonio Mennini. He is a genial intellectual diplomat, but with a degree of toughness, having, as a young priest, had to deal with the Red Brigade terrorists who kidnapped then murdered the Italian prime minister, Aldo Moro in 1978. Whatever needs to be done will be done, to clear up this mess.

It's all kicking off..
It’s all kicking off..

* Brendan O’Neill, brilliant as usual, and editor of the admirable Spiked

** Mr Eugenides, whose tireless campaign to bring down Gordon Brown during the years of terror deserves our gratitude

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