Cardinal Keith O

O”€™Brien attracted special opprobrium during his incumbency because of his frequent attacks on the government’s obsession with “€œgay marriage,”€ which he called a “grotesque subversion.” In November last year, this “insensitivity” earned him the inverse accolade “Bigot of the Year” by a monomaniacal group named Stonewall”€”the playground phraseology making the group’s corporate sponsors squirm in unease, doubtless fearing losing Catholic customers. (They need not have feared, because conservatives almost never act strategically.)  

Stonewall and their many allies were accordingly thrilled when four priests came forward this week to claim that this very public detester of “€œdeviance”€ had subjected them to “€œinappropriate”€ advances. Not only did this remove one of their most inveterate enemies and undercut all conservatives, it reconfirmed one of their fondest pop-psychology theories”€”that the most fervent anti-homosexuals are often overcompensating for their own orientations. In the Guardian on February 26, Mark Dowd briefly discusses traditionalist “€œliturgy queens”€ who involve themselves in endless discussions about rites and vestments to distract themselves from more dangerous proclivities”€”and all of us probably know Catholics who fit this bill. 

O”€™Brien denies the allegations, but he brought forward his planned resignation (or had it brought forward for him), thereby losing the chance of helping to elect Benedict’s successor at March’s conclave.

In accordance with the usual practice when a man is down, the media was quick to kick the fallen cardinal, highlighting what some papers called his “€œclose friendship”€ with the late kiddie-fiddler Jimmy Savile. Pictures showing them together at fundraising events suddenly sprouted up everywhere, an incongruous and unpleasing combination of a dignified prelate in canonicals and a lounging longhaired lad in some of the worst clothes that ever emanated from a Far Eastern sweatshop. 

According to at least one newspaper, Savile’s mother believed her infant son had been saved from early death thanks to the intercession of the Venerable Margaret Sinclair”€”and her son, for many an “€œicon”€ of pop culture and permissiveness, retained sufficient religiosity to accept a papal knighthood in 1990. The alleged “€œclose friendship”€ between Savile and O”€™Brien did not, incidentally, prevent O”€™Brien from recommending that this be stripped from Savile as soon as stories emerged about the DJ’s priapism. 

Even if O”€™Brien is cleared of these charges, very similar stories will immediately be circulated about other senior prelates, and they will always do so”€”even in the unlikely event that a pope decides to abolish the celibacy rule, which some predecessors have acknowledged is more a matter of usage than of doctrine. Only a week ago, none other than Keith O”€™Brien”€”at that time, still a respected moral arbiter with (Stonewall notwithstanding) a general reputation for liberalism”€”recommended that the next pope should consider whether priests ought to be allowed to marry. But apologists cite Christ’s own example or quote Paul and Luke. And even if the Bible cannot be introduced in evidence, celibacy is a very long established custom, going back not just to the Church fathers but even before Christianity, to the notion that self-mortification facilitates religious realization. 

It would be a brave Pontiff who would take this on, and doubtless even if the rule was changed the Church will always be a target for the world’s wiseacres. It looks likely that the next pope, whoever he may be, will endure yet more stormy waters and headwinds as he struggles to keep his ship afloat.



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