Institutions Opinion

For Scottish bishop, what a difference a day makes

The highest-ranking Catholic bishop in the United Kingdom, Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien made waves on Friday and was cheered on by Catholic progressives when he suggested that the next pope should consider easing rules on clergy celibacy:

“I’d be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should be married. It’s a free world and I realise many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood, and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family.”

But what a difference a day makes.

On Saturday, O’Brien, 74, an elector in the upcoming papal conclave, again made headlines, this time for accusations from men who reported sexual misconduct at the hands of their bishop. Four current and former priests said they were victims of inappropriate conduct. O’Brien denies the charges and is seeking legal recourse.

Officials in the Vatican said it is aware of the situation and they are considering if any action will be taken against O’Brien, perhaps even asking him to remove himself from the conclave (think of the awful message it’ll send if O’Brien is barred and Los Angeles’ disgraced former Cardinal Roger Mahony is not).

The two news stories appear to be unrelated, though the timing of a controversial questioning of church teaching, followed immediately by the public release of antiquated complaints of sexual misconduct, certainly give fodder to conspiracy theorists (like this one) watching the events unfold in Rome.

About the author

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O’Loughlin writes about religion and politics from Washington, D.C., paying close attention to the role of the Catholic Church in public life. His writing has appeared in Religion & Politics, the Jesuit magazine America, on, and in Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership.


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