A few days after Cardinal Keith “Same-sex relationships are demonstrably harmful” O’Brien admitted and apologised for his predatory sexual behaviour towards other priests, his replacement, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia has expressed worry that, “…the credibility and moral authority of the Catholic Church in Scotland has been dealt a serious blow…” I find this idea a little baffling, given the recent and not-so-recent past of the Catholic Church. I don’t disagree that O’Brien’s behaviour demonstrates both immorality and a repugnant hypocrisy, but why is this the revelation that broke the camel’s back? I’d like to compare the damage done to the “credibility and moral authority” of the Church by O’Brien’s actions before and after the revelation of his sexual “misconduct”.
Taking the latter first, O’Brien has admitted to inappropriate sexual advances made against priests, and has opined that his “sexual conduct has fallen beneath the standards expected,” of him. Perhaps the most charitable thing one can say about his crimes are that he managed to avoid the Catholic cliché, and did not molest children, only adults. The effect of this upon the Catholic Church is mainly one of embarrassment for showing flagrant hypocrisy in one of their high-ranking members, and the questioning, at least by those outside the Church, of the doctrine that priests must remain celibate for life. While I do not agree with those who hold that O’Brien ought to be shown sympathy because of this inhuman doctrine, it certainly helps to make sense of his actions. If you are human, and therefore in possession of some degree of sexual instinct, but are prohibited from slaking it, you will be sorely tempted to express this bottled lust in secret, and impose it upon those over whom you have power – in this case those further down the Catholic hierarchy. This case clearly shows an example of how the very dogma of the Catholic Church can create a situation in which people take deeply immoral actions. I do question whether O’Brien’s actions were the result of repressed homosexual feelings or simply the fact that he had the requisite power over an exclusively male priesthood. In the former case it is rather tragic that perfectly healthy feelings were crushed and strangled by his backwards beliefs and forced to seep out in an ugly way; in the latter, he strikes me as nothing more than an abusive prick. But in either case, this shows a tremendous hypocrisy in one of the darlings of the Catholic Church, further showing the organisation up as immoral and anti-human.
Turning to O’Brien’s behaviour prior to these revelations, is it really such that it doesn’t damage the Church’s “credibility and moral authority”? His continued opposition to LGBTQ rights, and membership in a Church that supports such bigotry worldwide ought to be enough to show that the authority wielded by the Catholic Church is far from “moral”. As for “credibility”, his comments regarding the supposed damage done to people and society by allowing gay people to marry shows an utter disconnect from empirical reality. O’Brien has been a strong campaigner for Scotland for Marriage, the organisation fighting against equal marriage rights in my home country. I’ve had a look over their reasons for their opposition, and they are so laughable that I’ll need to save my thoughts for another post. But needless to say, his involvement shows him to be a bigot and a throwback. Even if he is only following the dictates of his church, he ought to be scorned for showing moral cowardice.
My point is not that this new scandal over O’Brien’s sexual crimes has not done damage to the status of the Catholic Church. My point is that claiming that this is not just another nail in the coffin, facilitated by this man, is simply ridiculous. Keith O’Brien has been damaging the “credibility and moral authority” of the Catholic Church for years among those who are not threatened by two people declaring their love for one another, while deigning to possess matching genitalia.