Cardinal Keith O’Brien has done something honourable by coming clean over the allegations against him. In doing so, he has vindicated those who made the claims against him and saved the Roman Catholic Church the further trauma of on-going speculation whilst the truth of the matter was being verified. Maybe he chose to come clean because he realised that the truth was going to come out eventually, whether he liked it or not and admitting to what he had done was the best way to preserve what little credibility he has left and gain some sympathy from those loyal to him. I would hope though, that the real reason was that he knew that to lie about what had happened would be morally and ethically wrong and go against his own faith. We all do things wrong, sometimes big and stupid things. Spiritual leaders are not exempt from this, not even the Pope, dare I say it, but how we respond to our own actions often says far more about our beliefs and our levels of integrity than the actions themselves.
Of course, there are plenty of consequences as a result of the cardinal’s actions. Saying sorry doesn’t make things nice and lovely all of a sudden, leaving us able to carry on as if nothing ever happened. Those four men who made the accusations (three priests and a former priest) have had to contend with the knowledge that going public would lead to a great deal of harm to the reputation of the Catholic Church and personally face the “cold disapproval of the church hierarchy for daring to break ranks”. The Cardinal will now be remembered for the charge of hypocrisy more than anything else. His outspoken attacks on homosexuality such as this Telegraph article where he describes gay relationships as ‘harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved’ have caused plenty of hurt amongst gay people, further alienating many from the Church and last year earned him Stonewall’s ”Bigot of the Year’ award. Yet his actions that have now come to light severely damage any credibility his statements might have had.
Those who set themselves up as the guardians of decency and morality always run the risk of a big fall if they succumb to temptation and in this case the fall is epic. Cardinal O’Brien’s job was to tow the party line irrespective of his own sexual leanings. An effective way to cover any suspicion that you might not be 100% heterosexual is to go on the offensive in an attempt to persuade others and possibly yourself to that being actively gay is a very bad thing. We might like to think that we can change the reality of a situation if we try hard enough to convince ourselves and put on the appropriate masks, but no matter how hard we attempt to do this, those masks have a habit of slipping.
This turn of events is one man’s tragedy, but it should also be a reminder to us of the frailty of human nature. How many of us have our own dirty little secrets or hide behind masks to make up for our inadequacies or insecurities? Jesus once said something very similar to “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. That doesn’t mean we should not have a long hard look at this whole sorry episode and certainly for the Catholic Church there is likely to be plenty of soul-searching as it works out how to move forward and look to heal some of the pain caused both inside and outside of its walls. Our own failures might not get plastered across the newspapers, but what it does mean is that without grace and forgiveness we’re all in trouble. Cardinal O’Brien has to deal with the sign of ‘hypocrite’ round his neck for the rest of his life, but if we’re not too careful, our own condemnations put us in danger of becoming hypocrites too. It’s so easy for any of us to fall into the ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ trap. There’s a big discussion still to be had over all of this that’s inevitably going to be painful and heated. If we choose to enter into it, let’s be careful not to make accusations and say things against others that we too may later regret.
‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ (Luke 6:37-38)