Catholic Church must renew itself

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Sometimes adversity enables an institution with a moral purpose to do an audit of its shortcomings and renew 
itself for the challenges ahead.

It remains to be seen if that will be the course taken by the Catholic Church in Scotland but I hope it will be.

One lesson that needs to be learned is the need for self-awareness when dealing with powerful forces that do not share the church’s perspectives and whose members may even deride its 
religious purpose.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, is not head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, nor is he the spokesman for Christians in Scotland.

But this is how he was characterised by much of the media which enabled him to adopt positions on a wide range of non-religious issues; some worthwhile positions, others perhaps not so. There is an example of a celebrity ex-prelate who has scaled the heights of the Scottish cultural establishment while leaving his own church far behind in the process – Richard Holloway.

Cardinal O’Brian’s is a cautionary tale, especially since sections of the media like nothing better than to place someone with a moral message on a pedestal only to toss them down gleefully when their halo is seen to be chipped.

There are well-placed Catholics in Scotland who know there are costs to be incurred in getting too close to a cynical, superficial and sometimes malevolent media very much in tune with post-Christian times.

The Church of Scotland, mocked for not having visible and voluble personalities at the helm, may now appear to be fitter than the Catholic Church for these times we live in by having a de-personalised leadership.

A huge amount of pastoral work is crying out to 
be done in Scotland, and it is to be hoped that whoever succeeds the Cardinal will leave the media to its own fate and concentrate on the day job.

Tom Gallagher

Emeritus Professor of Politics

University of Bradford