THE prospect of disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien being forced to remain in exile outside of Scotland is tantamount to “ongoing punishment” by the Catholic Church, independent MSP Margo MacDonald has said.
Her comments follow an interview with the former archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh’s successor, Monsignor Leo Cushley, in which he said that it was “unlikely” that Cardinal O’Brien would return to Scotland.
The veteran Vatican diplomat, who will be installed as archbishop later this week, said: “For the sake of the peace, it would probably be better form not to come back to Scotland.”
He said that whilst “it was not impossible” for the cardinal to return, he thought it “somewhat unlikely”, adding: “There would be a number of reasons for that, and looking around myself, I think it would probably be wiser and more helpful for the future of the Church here if he were not to be back in the country.”
Cardinal O’Brien left the country earlier this year by the Vatican’s command after he resigned in February following his admission of “inappropriate” behaviour with several priests during the early 1980s.
Cardinal O’Brien later admitted his sexual conduct had “fallen beneath the standards” expected of him.
In May, the Vatican announced that, with the Pope’s approval, the senior churchman – who was then Britain’s highest ranking Roman Catholic cleric – would leave Scotland “for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer and penance”.
Ms MacDonald, a friend and supporter of Cardinal O’Brien, yesterday hit out at Monsignor Cushley’s comments, telling The Scotsman Cardinal O’Brien still had a number of supporters in Scotland.
She said: “They’re absolutely entitled to their opinion, and from their point of view they might be correct that this is the most peaceful solution. But I hope he knows that he has as many friends who think the opposite, and that to forgive is not to punish him further and forever, as is happening if they exile him from his home.”
She said that she felt that such a move constituted a form of “ongoing punishment”, and that, in the light of the comments, she would be getting in touch with the cardinal “just to reassure him that not everyone feels he should have an ongoing punishment. He has lost everything, and that was perhaps enough”.
The prospect of permanent exile would be “dreadful” for Cardinal O’Brien, she said: “He was such a gregarious man, he loved having people around him and hearing what was going on – just being a part of things.”
Monsignor Cushley also said that in the wake of the senior cleric’s admissions, he planned to rebuild the Church’s relationships “quietly and patiently”.
But Ms MacDonald claimed that the public was not focused on this controversy compared to other scandals that had the rocked the Church this year.
“There have been so many scandals over the same period, and I think that most people who are not in the Church, or closely associated it with, think that it’s small beer compared with some of the other stuff,” she said. “So interest in it has diminished.”
Monsignor Cushley has also backed an independent inquiry into the way the Catholic Church handled allegations of serial sex abuse by priests at Fort Augustus Abbey boarding school in the Highlands over a 30-year period.