Scottish Cardinal to Atone For Sexual Misconduct
The Scottish cardinal who resigned as archbishop after admitting to sexual misconduct will leave Scotland for months of prayer and atonement, the Vatican said Wednesday in a rare sanction.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien recused himself from the March conclave that elected Pope Francis after a newspaper reported unnamed priests’ allegations that he acted inappropriately toward them. There have been no indications the priests were minors at the time.
O’Brien subsequently acknowledged he had engaged in unspecified sexual misbehavior. He resigned as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, apologized and promised to stay out of the church’s public life.
On Wednesday, the Vatican said O’Brien, once Britain’s highest-ranking Catholic leader, would leave Scotland for several months of "prayer, penance and spiritual renewal" for the same reasons he decided not to participate in the conclave.
The statement didn’t say if the arrangements were imposed on O’Brien by the Vatican as punishment, or if he had volunteered. Yet in the past, wayward priests have been sanctioned by the Vatican with punishments of "prayer and penance," suggesting that this was indeed a sanction. The Vatican said his departure was done "in agreement with the Holy Father."
The distinction is significant because victims of clerical abuse have long denounced the lack of accountability among the church hierarchy for having covered up the crimes of pedophile priests. In the church, bishops and cardinals have long been virtually untouchable.
Take American Cardinal Bernard Law, whose cover-up of pedophile priests in Boston was at the root of the U.S. church’s sex abuse crisis: Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002, but he was given a plum job as archpriest of one of the Vatican’s prime basilicas in Rome.
Even though O’Brien is not accused of abusing minors, his case had been watched to see if Pope Francis would take any action against a cardinal who had strayed. The Vatican, for example, has refused to even confirm whether it was investigating the allegations against O’Brien, even though the Scottish Catholic Church’s media office said the complaints had been forwarded to Rome and that it expected an investigation.
The Vatican spokesman declined to provide further explanation Wednesday and the spokesman for the Scottish church didn’t respond to requests seeking comment.