THE Catholic Church in Scotland has been badly damaged over allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” by Cardinal Keith O’Brien towards priests, according to the former leader of the Church in England and Wales.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the retired arch-bishop of Westminster, said yesterday that “what has happened will for him and for the Church in Scotland have been very damaging”.
His comments came on the day Cardinal O’Brien had been expected to fly to Rome to take part in the conclave to elect a new pope, but instead remained at his home in Edinburgh.
Cardinal O’Brien’s decision to stay in Scotland was triggered by the Pope’s immediate acceptance of his resignation following accusations that he made “inappropriate” approaches to four priests during the 1980s.
Asked for his reaction to the resignation, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said: “Obviously, I was very sad. I do not know anything about the details, I am sure that they will be addressed, but certainly I was saddened.
“I know Cardinal O’Brien well, so I think it has been very sad. I think that what has happened will for him and for the Church in Scotland have been very damaging. But I think Cardinal O’Brien is a very honest man.”
He added: “Whoever goes in will look at the allegations that have been made and he himself has contested them. So I think we have to leave it like that.”
The complaint by the four priests, which is understood to have been made at the beginning of February, was passed on to the papal nuncio in London and then directly to Benedict XVI, as only the Pope can judge the behaviour of cardinals.
Last night, it remained unclear whether Cardinal O’Brien was aware of the identity of his accusers, whose statements he has contested. A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said the faith of the nation’s Catholics would not be “destroyed” by an individual’s failings.
The statement issued by Peter Kearney said: “These are trying and testing times, but the faith of Catholics is not built on an adherence to a political message or an individual personality. It is a personal faith in God. It will not be destroyed by events and controversies or the individual failings of anyone.”
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said part of the role of the apostolic administrator appointed to the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh while the post remains vacant would be to examine the allegations made against Cardinal O’Brien.
Cardinal O’Brien’s decision not to travel to Rome has left Britain’s Catholics with no vote in the conclave as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, at 80 years old, is ineligible to cast a vote.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, who flies to Rome today to take part in pre-meetings before the conclave starts, said the Church needed to undergo renewal and reform, and he called for the “Pope’s own house to be put in order”. He said the successor to Benedict XVI would need to be able to tackle reform of the Roman Curia, the Vatican departments which govern the 1.2 billion-strong global Church.
He said: “There is no doubt that today there needs to be renewal in the Church, reform in the Church and especially of government. How is this next pope going to govern the Church?
“Quite a lot of bishops and cardinals think that it has got to be done perhaps in a more collegial way, in other words, those who rule the Church. It is not just the Pope who rules the Church, it is the Pope with the bishops.”