Scottish cardinal to vote for new pope despite abuse claims by several priests

Singer Susan Boyle and Cardinal Keith O'Brien launch the Scottish Catholic Internat- ional Aid Fund Lenten campaign in Glasgow two weeks ago. photograph: danny lawson

Singer Susan Boyle and Cardinal Keith O'Brien launch the Scottish Catholic Internat- ional Aid Fund Lenten campaign in Glasgow two weeks ago. photograph: danny lawson


Irish-born Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Scotland’s most senior Catholic, is set to fly to Rome this week to vote in the papal conclave, despite facing allegations of abuse 30 years ago of young clerics.

Following the allegations, however, the cardinal pulled out of celebrating Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh yesterday, where he had been scheduled to praise Pope Benedict XVI for his eight years in charge of the church.

Three serving and one former priest complained shortly before Pope Benedict’s resignation decision to the papal nuncio in London, Antonio Mennini, accusing the Ballycastle, Co Antrim-born cardinal of inappropriate behaviour.

Explaining the cardinal’s absence from yesterday’s Mass, Bishop Stephen Robson said the Catholic Church “cannot but be saddened” by news of the allegations – which are vehemently denied.

“A number of allegations of inappropriate behaviour have been made against the cardinal,” he told the congregation. “The cardinal has sought legal advice and it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. There will be further statements in due course.”

In a reply to the priests, who asked a senior Edinburgh-based figure to represent them, the papal nuncio told them that he appreciated their courage, according to the Observer, which has seen emails exchanged between the sides.

One of the group, who left the priesthood and is now married, claims that Cardinal O’Brien made an inappropriate approach after night prayers in 1980 when he was spiritual director to the then 20-year-old seminarian.

Too frightened

The former priest claims he was too frightened to report the alleged incident, although he claims that he quit the priesthood when Cardinal O’Brien was later appointed bishop.

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

He added that he became depressed after the alleged incident, at St Andrew’s College, Drygrange, and needed psychological counselling.

A serving priest said he was invited to spend a week “getting to know” Cardinal O’Brien at his bishop’s palace, where he claims he was forced to fend off unwanted behaviour from him after a late-night drinking session, the Observer reports.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the former archbishop of Westminster, noted that Cardinal O’Brien had denied the charges.

“I think we will just have to see how that pans out,” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor told the programme. “There have been other cases which have been a great scandal to the church over these past years. I think the church has to face up – has faced up – to some of them very well indeed.”

Cardinal O’Brien would have to make his own decision about whether he should vote in the papal conclave, he added, though so far, there is no sign that the cardinal, who is due to retire next month on reaching 75, will step aside.

BBC interview

On Thursday, Cardinal O’Brien gave a candid interview to BBC Scotland where he voiced support for priests being able to marry, saying that celibacy had not been a constant in the church and did not have the same standing as “dogmatic beliefs” opposing euthanasia and abortion.

He showed no sign then that he was aware of the allegations, saying “the only thing” that worried him was whether he would do the right thing when he sat with the other cardinals to elect a successor to Pope Benedict.

He was then questioned about Los Angeles-based Cardinal Roger Mahony’s intention to travel to Rome for the conclave, even though he had been severely criticised for his plans to vote despite harsh condemnation of his handling of child-abuse cases in the US.

“I will leave it to him just to think and consider whether or not he has been guilty of such wrongdoing that would disqualify him from taking part in the papal election.

“We all know, and I think we all acknowledge, that sometimes if someone has erred in some way or another it doesn’t stop their judgment in other matters being perfectly clear.”