CARDINAL Keith O’Brien’s resignation as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, vacating the de facto post of leader of the Scottish Roman Catholic Church, is more than a shock.
It is another piece of evidence that the Church is in severe trouble. The shock felt by Scottish Catholics is understandable. Scarcely had they time to absorb the news that Pope Benedict was resigning than it emerged that allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Cardinal O’Brien had been made by three priests and a former priest earlier this month.
The truth of these allegations is not known. Cardinal O’Brien contests them and there is, as of now, no way of confirming their veracity. But it is not unfair to conclude that they are regarded as serious by the current Pope who decided to advance the date of Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation which both parties had agreed was due to occur next month when he reached the age of 75.
From his statement, we know that Cardinal O’Brien – while contesting the allegations – did not want his participation in the conclave of cardinals choosing a successor to Pope Benedict to distract attention from the vital decision “Princes of the Church” have to make. Yet in doing so, Cardinal O’Brien has turned people’s attention to other cardinals who have been involved in controversies – some involving claims of hushing up historic sexual abuse by priests – who plan to attend the conclave. It must be time for those cardinals to examine their consciences and follow Cardinal O’Brien’s example.
In the domestic arena, Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation could also serve as a point at which the Catholic Church in Scotland examines its stance on many of the issues where beliefs, or the beliefs of the senior clergy at least, impinge on politics – same-sex marriage being one example. One does not have to doubt Cardinal O’Brien’s sincerity to ask whether his interventions were in tune with modern Scottish society, or even many of his flock who have grown up in a more liberal age yet still retain their core faith.
The questions which arise from this surprise resignation are many. We may never know the whole truth of the claims made against the cardinal – though for his sake, as well as those of his accusers, it would be in everyone’s interest if we did. In the wider context, it is clearer than ever that the choice the cardinals gathering in Rome make is crucial to the future of the Catholic Church. The new pope cannot in any way be tainted by scandal. He must show leadership in being more open about the lingering allegations of covering up of abuse. Above all, he must provide enlightened spiritual leadership for the modern world. In short, what is required is a saint to take on the mantle of Saint Peter. Those of us who believe in prayer will be praying that such a man exists among the current cardinals. Those who don’t pray will be hoping for what those of faith might call a miracle.
Sterling has ties that bind
IT APPEARS that Treasury ministers have moved and accepted that an independent Scotland could well be accommodated inside a sterling currency union. The Scottish Government has hailed that as proof it is winning the independence debate.
The idea certainly makes some economic sense. The case for a sterling union has been advanced by several economists and not just those who Alex Salmond has enlisted in his cause. It would make little sense for there to be a currency frontier penalising businesses on either side of the Border which trade across it.
Of course, there appears to be a catch. It is that the Treasury of the rest of the UK would impose a cap on just how much an independent Scottish government could borrow. And on the policies currently being pursued by the Treasury, it would be a highly restrictive cap, limiting the ability of Scottish ministers to borrow and finance the kind of expansionary policy which George Osborne currently rejects as the wrong course for Britain.
This raises a number of questions for the First Minister. Just how much fiscal freedom to vary taxes, whether in pursuit of more economic growth or in furtherance of a more socially just and equitable Scotland, does he think he will have? What say does he envisage Scotland would have if, say, the Bank of England was minded to engage in more quantitative easing? Or if it chose to raise interest rates?
And if his answer is that there would be reasonable freedom and a due say, how exactly does he intend to wrest that from a reluctant UK government, which intents to set fiscal rules for Scotland, when he has no alternative to a sterling union and hence no cards to play in a negotiation?