CARDINAL Keith O’Brien has stood down from frontline duties in the Roman Catholic Church of Scotland.
The controversial religious figure, known for his outspoken views on same-sex marriage, officially quit the position of Bishops’ Conference of Scotland president yesterday, ending a decade in the top post. The decision means the 74-year-old will no longer chair or deal with any administration related to conference meetings.
The Bishops Conference is made up of the presiding bishops of Scotland’s eight dioceses, and is the key decision-making body for the Catholic Church in Scotland. The assembly’s chief task is to set the liturgical norms for mass in the country.
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia was elected president in Cardinal O’Brien’s place at yesterday’s meeting in Edinburgh to determine the conference’s new office bearers for the next three years.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church said “age, more than health” had been the reason behind the cardinal decision to leave the post.
Statutory retirement for the president of the Bishops’ Conference comes into effect at the age of 75, meaning they are unable to serve in that post.
Cardinal O’Brien will celebrate his 75th birthday in March, meaning he could have only completed four months of a new term if re-elected.
The spokesman said: “[The] Bishops’ Conference have elections every three years, which mean he wouldn’t be able to serve a further full term.”
He added: “He was and still is Scotland’s senior Catholic, but Archbishop Tartaglia will chair meetings of Bishops Conference as new president.”
Cardinal O’Brien is expected to still carry out active duties within the Church, including leading weekly masses. He has suffered from heart problems for several years, having been fitted with a pacemaker after complaining of dizzy spells and fainting prior to Passion Sunday Mass in March 2008.
The decision comes just five days after the cardinal was controversially named “Bigot of the Year” by leading charity Stonewall, which promotes the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic has been a vocal critic of the Scottish Government’s plans to legalise same-sex marriage.
He has openly condemned gay marriage as an “aberration” and likened it to slavery, claiming countries that legalise the practice were “shaming themselves” by going against the “natural law”. Stonewall received a barrage of criticism from both the Catholic Church and the Scottish Government in the wake of last Thursday night’s awards ceremony.
Major sponsors Coutts and Barclays banks have both threatened to pull their support unless the category is axed for next year’s awards.
In a statement, the Catholic Church said: “Stonewall’s decision to award their “bigot of the year” award to Cardinal O’Brien reveals the depth of their intolerance and their willingness to attack and demean those who don’t share their views.
“Stonewall and others have promoted terms like ‘bigot’ and ‘homophobe’ relentlessly, in order to intimidate and vilify anyone who dares oppose their agenda.
“It is an agenda which the wider public does not endorse and which their excessive language has undermined.
“Numerous public bodies give sizeable financial donations to Stonewall, including the Scottish Government, these intolerant and intimidatory tactics should mean that this funding is now questioned and examined as a matter of urgency.”
Bishop Joseph Toal was also elected as conference vice president yesterday, replacing Archbishop Mario Conti in the role.
Following the election, Archbishop Tartaglia said: “I am honoured to have been elected president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland and grateful to my brother bishops for the trust they have placed in me.
“I would like to pay tribute to Cardinal O’Brien and Archbishop Conti as outgoing president and vice president for all they have done for the Bishops’ Conference over the past ten years.”
Cardinal O’Brien was born in Ballycastle in Northern Ireland.
He was ordained a priest in April 1965 and later obtained a bachelor of science in chemistry and mathematics from the University of Edinburgh and a diploma in education.
The leading Roman Catholic figure served as assistant parish priest and as chaplain of St Columba Secondary School in Cowdenbeath, where he taught maths.
He has also filled the role of spiritual director of St Andrew’s College in Drygrange and rector of St Mary’ College, Blairs. Cardinal O’Brien was ordained archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh in August 1985 and has been awarded the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.