Claim O’Brien blocked report ‘contrary to church law’

Keith O'Brien: disgraced archbishop. Picture: Jane Barlow
Keith O'Brien: disgraced archbishop. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A CLAIM by a leading Catholic bishop that disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien blocked a report on sex abuse runs contrary to church law, insiders have claimed.

Archbishop Mario Conti, the former archbishop of Glasgow, said last week the former head of the church in Scotland delayed plans to commission an independent examination of clerical sex offences going back decades. Without his backing, the other bishops also decided to delay, he said, claiming such an exercise “would have been faulty” without O’Brien.

But amid anger among Catholic laity over the handling of the scandals, insiders said the church’s own law showed bishops can press ahead in their own dioceses, and cannot be stopped by colleagues.

The church said yesterday that, once O’Brien’s successor Monsignor Leo Cushley is in place this autumn, an audit will be released showing complaints against clergy, church workers and volunteers.

But critics said that only an independent audit of historic abuse was required, and said the failure of individual bishops to publish details was an example of “delaying tactics”.

One insider said: “Why did seven bishops apparently bow to the sensitivities of one bishop and not give precedence to the sensitivities of the people abused by church employees? “If they cared so much, why not publish their own diocesan records and leave the public to take a view on O’Brien’s refusal to do so?”

At the time of the decision to delay, O’Brien was president of the ruling Scottish Catholic Church’s Bishops Conference.

Conti used a letter to the Catholic weekly newspaper the Tablet last week to claim it was “the intention” of the other bishops to commission an independent review of historical cases but “this was delayed by the objection of the then-­President of the Conference”. A spokesman said: “Without the participation of all the dioceses a national audit was not possible so the analysis was stopped. The matter is now being revisited to allow the publication of national statistics.”

Yet critics point out canon law states that in most cases “the competence of each diocesan bishop remains intact, nor is a conference or its president able to act in the name of all the bishops unless each and every bishop has given consent”. Alan Draper, an academic and former adviser to the Catholic Church in Scotland on child protection, said last night bishops were using the cardinal to hide.

“Where is the moral responsibility and integrity? There is no leadership taking place at all. Archbishop Tartaglia [of Glasgow] has been mute throughout this. None of the bishops appear able to come out and show leadership. How these men are handling this is a total disgrace”.

On the decision not to go ahead with the report on sex abuse allegations, he said: “It is just delaying tactics. They are going to have to have a full independent investigation and they should put somebody like me to run it. They have to face up to it because their credibility has gone.”

The row comes amid claims of clerical abuse in the 1950s, 60s and 70s at two former Catholic boarding schools, Fort Augustus Abbey in the Highlands and its feeder school, Carlekemp in North Berwick.