While many of those of a more secular persuasion were looking elsewhere, at matters party political and economic, the Roman Catholic Church has had its own little local difficulty. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the church’s most senior representative in the UK and its head in Scotland, was accused of “inappropriate behaviour” towards a number of other priests.
St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City
But, unlike some party politicians, there was no messing about: Cardinal O’Brien tendered his resignation, to take effect next month when he turns 75. And even this was not good enough for the Holy See, as Pope Benedict XVI decided that the Cardinal would retire immediately. So O’Brien will not be off to Rome presently to join the Conclave of Cardinals electing Benedict’s successor.
This news has been received badly by the Maily Telegraph’s religious guru Damian Thompson, who has declared that “This is a shocking crisis for the Church”, which is bullpucky of the highest order. The allegations concerning O’Brien’s behaviour would have provoked a real and shocking crisis only if the Church had somehow evaded the issue, but it has not.
What does Thompson think might be a superior strategy in the circumstances? The kind of stuff that has been known to happen in a branch of Christianity with an all-male priesthood has apparently happened. It cannot be un-happened. There is a need for swift and decisive action. It has been taken, very publicly, by the leader of the Church. What crisis?
True, there is certain to be fallout as the inevitable questions are asked as to why O’Brien was kept in place for so long. But from where we are now, there is no strategy that enables these to be headed off. Roman Catholicism has learned, as a body, and from a number of instances of rather more significantly “inappropriate behaviour”, that prevarication is not an option.
The Church of Rome could not have come out of this affair in any better shape. I am not a fan of organised religion, and find much about the Catholic Church to be downright strange, but here it has learned crisis management rather better than many party politicians.
Let us hope that the same Church continues to take a similarly firm line with any and every instance of “inappropriate behaviour” unearthed in the future.