Moral Low Ground

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Anti-Gay UK Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s Top Catholic, Resigns amid Gay Allegations

Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric, a staunch opponent of gay rights, has resigned amid allegations that he made homosexual advances on younger priests.

The BBC reports that 74-year-old Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, is stepping down as the leader of the Scottish Catholic Church. O’Brien apologized to “all whom I have offended” for “any failures” during his tenure as Britain’s top Catholic, but denies engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior towards other priests over the past four decades.

Despite the fact that he will remain a cardinal and is eligible to attend the upcoming Vatican conclave, O’Brien will not make the trip to Rome, leaving Britain unrepresented as Catholic leaders choose a new pope following the retirement of Benedict XVI at the end of this month.

“I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me, but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor,” O’Brien said. “However, I will pray with them and for them that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they will make the correct choice for the future good of the Church.”

The Observer first reported the allegations against O’Brien on Saturday. According to the paper, three priests and a former priest in Scotland complained to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain, about inappropriate behavior and demanded O’Brien’s resignation.

The first allegation dates back to 1980, when a then-20-year-old seminarian at St. Andrew’s College, Drygrange claims that O’Brien, who was his “spiritual director,” made a homosexual advance on him following night prayers. The young man said he was too frightened to report the alleged advance. Although he was ordained as a priest, he resigned when O’Brien was promoted to bishop.

“I knew then he would always have power over me,” the alleged victim stated. “It was assumed I left the priesthood to get married. I did not. I left to preserve my integrity.”

The second alleged victim, known as ‘Priest A,’ claims O’Brien visited him in his parish and “inappropriate contact” between the two men took place.

The third alleged victim, ‘Priest B,’ stated that he was a young priest in the 1980s when O’Brien invited him to his residence for a week to “get to know” him. ‘Priest B’ alleges that O’Brien engaged in ‘unwanted behavior’ after a late-night drinking session.

The final alleged victim, ‘Priest C,’ accuses O’Brien of making advances on him during night prayers while the former was a young priest receiving counseling from the latter for personal problems.

These four men say that O’Brien abused his position.

“You have to understand the relationship between a bishop and a priest,” the ex-priest stated, “At your ordination, you take a vow to be obedient to him.”

“He’s more than your boss, more than the CEO of your company. He has immense power over you. He can move you, freeze you out, bring you into the fold … he controls every aspect of your life. You can’t just kick him in the balls.”

The allegations against O’Brien are compounded by the fact that he is a vociferous homophobe. He was named Bigot of the Year last year by the LGBT advocacy group Stonewall Scotland after proclaiming that same-sex marriage was a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.” O’Brien also railed against gay adoption and gay rights in general.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond lamented O’Brien’s resignation. “It would be a great pity if a lifetime of positive work was lost from comment in the circumstances of his resignation,” Salmond told the BBC. “None of us know the outcome of the investigation into the claims made against him but I have found him to be a good man for his church and country.”

O’Brien’s resignation is but the latest sex scandal to rock the Catholic Church, which is already reeling from a worldwide clergy sex abuse epidemic in which countless people, a great many of them young boys, claim to have been raped, molested or otherwise abused by priests and other church leaders. This scandal has touched every inhabited continent on earth, and allegations of a cover-up at the highest levels of Vatican leadership has compounded the scandal.

Victims groups claim that as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal department, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger– who would later become Pope Benedict XVI– turned a blind eye as local churches moved priests and other clergy who raped and molested children and other parishioners from parish to parish instead of defrocking them and alerting law enforcement authorities. Ratzinger, who was in positions of power in the Catholic church for three decades, should have done more, critics say.

Classified US embassy cables published by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks in 2010 revealed that the Vatican under Benedict refused to allow its officials to testify before an Irish commission investigating decades of child sex abuse. Even more shocking, a ‘smoking gun’ 1997 letter from the Vatican to Catholic bishops in Ireland ordering them to refrain from reporting child sex abuse cases proved that the highest levels of the Catholic church were complicit in a massive cover-up. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny slammed the Vatican for its “absolutely disgraceful” behavior in the scandal.

In March 2010, the Pope apologized to Irish Catholics for the abuse, admitting that “serious mistakes” were made by the church involving its response to the widespread sex abuse.

But because he is a citizen of the Vatican, a sovereign state, Pope Benedict XVI will enjoy immunity from prosecution for crimes related to clergy sex abuse and its concealment.

While the Vatican leadership continues to deny responsibility for the global sex abuse scandal, new allegations keep making headlines. In Los Angeles, where disgraced Cardinal Roger Mahony and other top church officials conspired to protect child-raping priests and other abusive clergy, the names of two dozen additional suspected abusers have just been released. More than 500 victims of past church sex abuse reached a $660 million settlement with the archdiocese in 2007, the largest such payout in church history.

And just last week, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica published highlights from a 300-page Vatican dossier that allegedly links Pope Benedict’s resignation to a secret network of senior gay priests within the Church who were being blackmailed by outside forces. The Pope’s staff neither confirmed nor denied the allegations made in this so-called ‘Vatileaks’ scandal.

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