The timing was obviously planned, deliberate and malicious. O’Brien was about to fly to Rome to participate in the conclave to elect a new pope. Not now my friend, not now. I can only imagine his pain, but much as it must be awful for a man who has generally evinced holiness and care, this was not some youthful dalliance but — if the allegations are true — a senior churchman using power to try to corrupt others.
Now, of course, media is thrashing around in the mud, and reporters have found photographs of O’Brien posing with disgraced BBC television icon Jimmy Saville, recently exposed as a chronic sex offender. It’s horribly unfair in that half of the establishment had photographs taken with Saville, and it proves absolutely nothing. I remember taking the collection plate to him in 1985 in London, but I don’t think this makes me a suspect.
The surprise of all this, apart from the inherent shock of possible immorality exposed, is that it wasn’t revealed during the recent debate in Britain over same-sex marriage. O’Brien was one of the loudest critics of gay marriage, and was named “Bigot of the Year” by the homosexual extremist organization Stonewall. Gay zealots have a track record of extraordinary nastiness and intolerance, and we can only assume that someone discovered the accusations fairly recently, and waited until just before the conclave to cause as much discord as possible.
But great plans sometimes have contrary consequences. You see, other than the gay issue, Cardinal O’Brien has generally been extremely liberal in his theology and politics, even to the point of being ordered by Rome to make a public profession of faith in 2003. The week before he was accused, O’Brien made headlines with an oddly ahistorical and callow statement about the need to question priestly celibacy.
So a conservative Catholic in the truest sense this man is not. Which is where the irony of all this emerges, in that if we presume that opponents of Catholic teaching organized it, if we presume that they timed it to do the most damage, if we presume that they are not particular fans of Pope Benedict and all for which he stands, then they’re just removed a cardinal who — we can also presume — would not have been the most active supporter of a traditional pope.
As in chess, one has to think not one or two but five or six moves ahead. It’s difficult to see anything funny in this bloody, agonizing drama, but the idea of anti-Catholics plotting a campaign against conservatives, only to shoot themselves in the foot gives me a certain schadenfreude; which is why I will need to spend even more time in the confessional.
What should not happen, but most certainly will, is for amateur, ill-informed and, most dangerous, agenda-driven commentators to argue that such possible scandal is caused by the Church’s refusal to ordain women or, for the most part, married men. I’ve written and broadcast repeatedly that rates of abuse and sexual impropriety are as high and often higher in Protestant denominations, public education and sport, and that in none of these areas are celibacy or gender exclusivity an issue.
It’s about sin, folks, sin. Plain and simple, black and white. Those who want to flood the argument with grey are not looking for nuance, but anxious to drown the truth. How ironic and grimy, then, that Cardinal O’Brien should question clerical celibacy the same week he was accused of not living up to his.
Pray for the man, and pray for those who are in Rome, that they will feel the leading of the Holy Spirit at this vital time for the greatest enemy of sin — the Roman Catholic Church.
(Coren’s latest book is Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity. His web site is www. michaelcoren.com.)