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Cardinal O'Brien scandal reminds us of corruption before the Protestant Reformation

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 4th, 2013
Catholic Online (

Cardinal Keith O'Brien has admitted to engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct while serving as a priest, He has resigned from his post and said he will not continue to serve within the Church. The Vatican is investigating.

LONDON, ENGLAND (Catholic Online) - Britain's top cardinal, Keith O'Brien, 74, has resigned, admitting past inappropriate behavior with men. He has been accused of making homosexual advances towards at least four young men training for the priesthood.

O'Brien made a statement admitting his guilt and resigning from Church duties saying, "there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal. In his statement, O'Brien apologized and asked for forgiveness.

The Vatican will now investigate the claims of wrongdoing and he could be subject to discipline if further evidence of wrongdoing is found.

O'Brien's admission follows the eruption of scandal over the behavior of Los Angeles Cardinal and Archbishop Roger Mahony. Although Mahony has not been accused of sexual immorality, he actively concealed from authorities those who were guilty of harming children. Several pedophile priests were active in his archdiocese and were commonly transferred rather than handed over to the police.

O'Brien's absence means that England will not have a cardinal representing the country in the election of the next pope.

His empty seat will also remind the cardinals that the Church faces an exceptional challenge in dealing with the internal corruption of clergy who engage in acts of sexual immorality. The next pope will have to address this crisis directly and must actively seek out and remove from positions of power and influence, those who refuse to abide by Church instruction on the subject.

Since homosexual activity between consenting adults is lawful in Britain, it is unlikely that O'Brien will face criminal charges.

The admission of guilt on behalf of O'Brien is also more surprising because he has been a vocal opponent of the homosexual equivalency movement in Britain. Homosexual equivalency activists even labeled him "Bigot of the Year." Yet, just before the scandal which ended his career broke, O'Brien also made a public statement in favor of allowing priests to marry.

It was not clear whether he meant after they had been ordained - which will never be considered since the celibate priest is in a vowed life - or reconsidering consideration of married candidates for the priesthood in the Latin Rite. Eastern Catholic practice already allows married men to be considered for ordination to both the diaconate and the priesthood. The decision for state in life is made prior to the ordination to the diaconate. Married deacons and priests pledge to remain celibate should they lose their wives by death.

The Catholic Church, since the earliest days, has prohibited the marriage of ordained celibate priests. Consecrated Celibacy is a revered practice and recognized as being itself a vocational calling. For a Celibate priest, it means he is first devoted to Christ and the Church. 

Despite the understandable reaction which accompanied news of Cardinal O'Brien's scandal, sexual immorality within the Church is as ancient as sin itself. Just before the Protestant Reformation, Pope Alexander VI was publicly alleged to have had mistresses and at least four children who he publicly acknowledged. His example was cited by some of the Protestant reformers as adding to their decision to enter into schism and break away from the Church.

This sad reality of sexual immorality among some of the clergy is one of the matters which makes the work of the next pope so important. If the Church cannot deal with the need to purify itself of the influence of those who behave with immorality, then it will suffer increased persecution and derision just as the unethical behavior of the clergy in earlier times invited the same.

However, we should still acknowledge O'Brien's honesty and be grateful that he had the courage to accept responsibility and resign. Unfortunately it seemed to require the courageous whistle blowing of some of those whom he approached as long as 30 years ago.

It is expected he will cooperate with any Vatican investigation.

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