Cardinal falls on sword; will Mahony follow?

The big conclave news of the past 24 hours was the resignation of Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien — accepted by Pope Benedict with immediate effect — as the cardinal faced allegations of inappropriate conduct and unwanted attention towards men about 30 years ago. Now, these are currently allegations, and Cardinal O’Brien denies them, but the kneejerk reaction is to say he must be guilty if he’s resigned.

I don’t subscribe to that theory, though I’m not going to say the allegations are baseless; they came from three priests and a former priest, after all. It is certainly logical to believe the cardinal’s version of events but also think resigning was the right course of action, given the distraction his participation in the conclave would have caused.

Here’s the story from Radio New Zealand on the resignation and a few more details on the allegations:

The most senior Catholic cleric in Britain has resigned after accusations that he behaved inappropriately towards several priests three decades ago.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien contests the claims, but said Pope Benedict had agreed that his resignation, as the head of the Church in Scotland, would take effect immediately. He will not take part in electing a new pope.

Cardinal O’Brien said in a statement on Monday he had already tendered his resignation as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, to take effect when he turned 75 next month, but the pope had decided it would take effect that day.

The statement said:

“Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended.

“I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me – but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor.

The Observer reported that the three priests and one former priest from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, complained to the Pope’s representative to Britain, nuncio Antonio Mennini, the week before 11 February.

Cardinal O’Brien is an outspoken opponent of gay marriage.

When I first heard this story, I was disturbed by the fact three priests and a former priest would seek to use the conclave as the backdrop for their airing of allegations of events dating back 30 years, but it appears that the complaints were made before Pope Benedict announced he would resign, so that rules out the motive of embarrassing the cardinal at the most opportune time. I suspect more will be revealed in coming weeks about whether these allegations have previously been lodged with any Church authorities who have failed to properly investigate them, which might offer some more insight into why it’s being dealt with 30 years later.

Cardinal O’Brien’s decision, regardless of the veracity or not of the allegations, will intensify the spotlight on Cardinal Roger Mahony, about whom I wrote a few days ago. Might he see this as the example for him to follow — putting aside any personal hopes and wishes to participate in the conclave in order to avoid the distraction that his participation would create? Read the link in this paragraph for more, but the short version is that Cardinal Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, has been relieved of all administrative duties by his predecessor because of a woefully inadequate response to the clerical sexual abuse, but is still currently expected to be part of the conclave, despite the protestations of many — including me.

Cardinal Mahony probably has about 12 days to do the right thing, based on the likelihood now that the conclave will start around March 10. Will he do it?

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