Well one of Scotland’s leading Catholic historians Prof Tom Devine said this past week has plunged the Catholic Church into its gravest crisis since the Reformation, now that is a quite a claim. I think what makes this crisis so damaging to the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is that the damage to the authority of the church hasn’t come from some modern day John Knox but from within Church itself. In fact, the church has been holed below the water line by the actions of the most senior Catholic in the country, Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
In case you have been on a trip to Mars over the last week, here is the whole sorry story in nutshell. Cardinal Keith O’Brien last Saturday night was talking about going to Rome to help elect the next Pope and of course as a Cardinal, he was in theory a candidate. On Sunday a major newspaper ran a story about his inappropriate sexual behaviour towards four priests. A very half hearted response was made, the Vatican basically required him to resign and today there came a short but frank admission of wrong doing by the Cardinal.
Cardinal O’Brien was outspoken in his opposition to issues liberalising laws connected to the promotion of homosexuality, he vehemently opposed gay adoption, gay civil partnerships and of course more recently gay marriage. Now of course in light of his own sexual misdeeds his hypocrisy has torpedoed the authority and credibility of the church below the waterline and its listing badly. I suspect never again, even within the church, will Catholic priests, bishops and Cardinals be able to speak with the kind of authority they have in the past. This is in some ways is the same thing that happened to the Catholic Church after the sexual abuse scandals finally became common knowledge in Ireland. The whole perception of the Catholic Church has changed, its pronouncements which were once virtually law in Ireland are now met with a mixture of suspicion and derision, certainly not universal submission. Here in Scotland the Catholic Church has never wielded the same power (well since the days of Knox), but what power and influence it has amongst its own people and in the nation has taken an irrecoverable decline.
There is no doubt that Cardinal O’Brien has been guilty of the most monumental hypocrisy on this issue. I have been thinking about that for a few days and here are few of thoughts that have been going through my mind.
THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD …. O’Brien, like all preachers has to talk about sin as as a sinner which inevitably means facing the personally harrowing experience of having to explain to others that something you are personally guilty of is sinful in God’s sight. I don’t believe that O’Brien was an indifferent hypocrite who glibly preached against homosexuality in public then acted as a predatory homosexual in private. Here is a preacher’s secret, well this preacher’s secret, what we often most condemn in our sermons is what we are most tempted to do in our lives. I vividly remember a well know denominational leader in my own church lecturing us as bible college students about the danger of sexual sin, I can remember several sermons he preached on the same subjects, and yes it all came out, he had had an affair.
THE CHURCH ISN’T OBSESSED WITH SEX …. The radio chat shows love this kind of stuff and many of their presenters have been ironically pontificating about the church’s obsession about sex and saying this should mark the end of it. A nun from Glasgow called Richard Bacon’s bluff on this claim on Radio 5 Live, she asked how many times the BBC had asked Cardinal O’Brien to appear to talk about sex and how many times they had asked him to appear or talk about homelessness, poverty, love, loneliness, finding peace, care of the dying? There was much huffing and puffing from Bacon, but no reply because he knew the truth. It wasn’t O’Brien who had been obsessed with sex but the media. The media has little interest in what the church does to alleviate homelessness, or its views on what love is, about its views on hope etc. O’Brien perhaps should have been smarter in how many of those invitations to comment on sex related topics he accepted. Probably he secretly was pleased that he, rather than the moderator of the church of Scotland became the first port of call for media people looking for comments.
LETS RESIST SECTARIANISM Sectarianism is never far below the surface in Scotland. Both sides constantly looking for reasons to denigrate and disparage the other. I am pretty sure that there has been more than a few smug protestants around today as if somehow O’Brien’s demise shows the whole Catholic church is guilty of his sin. We should be wary of gloating at the misfortune of another part of the body of Christ. Most people in our culture no longer have the theological finesses to separate Protestant and Roman Catholic to any great extent. This whole sorry incident has pulled the whole church in Scotland down in everyone’s estimation. We should be sorrowing over what has happened not gloating. Of course I should also add that hypocrisy when it comes to sex is not confined Catholic prelates, I can rhyme off a long list of Protestant pastors I have know personally who have had to resign when sexual sin caught up with them. Let’s remember what Jesus said about sin and casting stones before we join in the chorus disparaging the Catholic Church.
Well those are my thoughts, just felt I wanted to get them off my chest.