O'Brien in challenge to Catholic traditions
SCOTLAND’S new cardinal-elect has spoken out in favour of married priests, acknowledged there are gay clergy and suggested a review of the Vatican’s ban on contraception.
Archbishop Keith O’Brien said there could be no change in the church’s teaching on fundamental issues such as opposition to abortion, war and divorce.
But he called for "full and open discussion" on other matters, including celibacy, married clergy and birth control.
Pope John Paul II’s choice of the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh as Scotland’s next cardinal caused some surprise because of his more liberal outlook.
And it was claimed today that the Archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, is planning to issue a letter to be read at all masses in Glasgow next Sunday reaffirming more traditional views on marriage and family life.
Archbishop O’Brien moved quickly to make clear his new status would not stop him expressing his views, even if they were likely to stir controversy.
After a special mass in Edinburgh’s St Mary’s RC Cathedral to celebrate his appointment, he said:
"I must say if there is an issue on which I want to speak out strongly, it does not matter who is against it - it’s my job. Like St Paul, it is to preach the gospel in season and out of season."
He continued: "There is a clear distinction between things that confront us in the Church at the present time which we can say are God’s law, like murder, abortion. We can’t compromise on matters like that.
"Other matters of church law, and celibacy by priests is one of those sorts of things, can be discussed. In other branches of the Catholic Church throughout the world there are married priests and in England there are a number of converts from Anglicanism who are married and who became Roman Catholic priests.
"So there is no problem about that. What I would ask for in the Church at every level, including the cardinal’s level and the Pope’s level, is to be able to have a full and open discussion about these issues to see where we stand and what the need is and what the implications are."
Archbishop O’Brien said he did not have a problem with homosexual priests.
And he admitted that gay clergy, including bishops, were a fact of life in the church.
"If ten per cent of men are gay then it’s a reasonable assumption that ten per cent of priests and ten per cent of bishops are gay, but it is what you do about it. If they are living a celibate life then God bless the men."
He said his approach to the job of cardinal would be different from that taken by his predecessor, Cardinal Thomas Winning - preferring "informal chats" with politicians to public denunciations.
He said his relations with Archbishop Conti were good. "I get on very well with Mario Conti and his was the first and the most fulsome congratulations that I received."
About 1000 people packed St Mary’s Cathedral yesterday for a special celebratory mass, which lasted for about two hours and ended with a stream of people shaking his hand and wishing him well on the steps outside.
He said he was exhilarated by the occasion.
And he spoke of his delight at his appointment.
"It gives an indication of how Scotland is regarded by the Catholic Church throughout the world and in particular by Pope John Paul II and his advisers.
"There are many larger countries without a cardinal and we have got fewer than one million Catholics and yet the Pope has appointed a cardinal here."
Archbishop O’Brien, 65, was one of 31 new cardinals named by the Pope on Sunday. He will be officially installed as cardinal at an ecclesiastical senate in Rome on October 21.
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