MOST of the seats at the 7:30pm Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh last night – the first after Cardinal O’Brien’s shock confession was announced – were empty.
The service began with a reading of the cardinal’s statement. It was evident that some of the congregation had heard the news and shuffled nervously and uneasily in their seats.
Those who had clearly not heard what had happened could be seen turning to friends in shocked disbelief. Some of them looked utterly stunned. One woman sat open-mouthed with tears in her eyes as news of the former archbishop of the diocese was revealed.
It was a very different feeling from the Mass just seven days ago when the allegations first came to light. Unlike last Sunday, the media were told they were not welcome – with members of the press asked by a number of people to leave the neo-Gothic cathedral.
Seven days ago most people were standing by the cardinal, believing the allegations to be untrue. Most went out of their way to speak to the press, calling the claims “lies” and “rubbish”. But that loyalty had been replaced with anger – much of it aimed at the media.
One elderly man standing shouted out that the media was to blame for the cardinal’s resignation. “How can you live with yourselves doing what you have done,” he yelled.
Even when he was reminded the cardinal had now admitted to “sexual misconduct”, he refused to back down, saying: “No-one is without sin”.
But many did not share his views. It was mainly younger people in attendance who admitted they felt let down and questioned what the Catholic Church had to do to now.
Fifth-year pupil Connor Gartland, 16, said: “I was born a Catholic, but I would never call myself one now. The general feeling among non-Catholics now is that Catholicism is a bit of a joke, and this just fuels that feeling.
“We all know of allegations over the past years, but for someone like this to come out and admit this is surprising, but more importantly it is very damaging. People will feel let down and confused.”
His views were shared by financier James Devlin, 26, who said: “It is hard to see what the Church can do now. How can you not disapprove of what has happened?
“The only thing it can do is ensure it takes steps to make sure this does not happen and not just sweep this under the carpet. People generally think that that is what has been happening. That has to stop.”
Speaking after he left the earlier Polish Mass, where no announcement was made about cardinal’s admission despite it being held after it was made public, James Brown, 26, said he would not have attended mass had he known. He said: “I feel utterly let down. I could not have sat through that had I known and won’t be going next week. They have to practise what they preach.”