"Cardinal Keith O’Brien, a classic example of church hypocrisy coming back to give him a well-earned bite on the bottom."- Terry Sanderson quoted in The Freethinker[1]

This shows Keith O'Brien while he was still confident before the scandal broke. He's holding what we imagine is his paddle stick.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien who died in March 2018 was Archbishop of Edinburgh and also the highest ranking Roman Catholic dignitary in the UK. O'Brien was named bigot of the year in 2012 due to his opposition to Gay marriage, gay adoption and his regular anti-gay position. [2] Indeed O'Brien felt allowing gay rights is "a mere step away from legalising Paedophilia and Bestiality." [3] Well really? That's strong language. Since the worthy cardinal opposed Homosexuality so strongly did he act consistently and avoid gay behaviour himself?

Accusations and admissions

Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien
20160327 234908.JPG
Cardinal O'Brien
Motto: Serve the Lord with gladness
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Previous post Apostolic Administrator of Argyll and The Isles, Scotland (1996–1999)
Born March 17 1938

Three Priests and one former priest accused O'Brien of inappropriate behaviour and inappropriate contact in February 2013. The other men involved were probably below 21 which was the legal age of consent for homosexual acts in Scotland at the time, [4] further O'Brien allegedly abused his position of authority over them making it hard for them to refuse his advances. Two of the accusers say they suffered lasting psychological harm, one claims that he needed long term counseling. Criminal investigations were possible [5][6] and may have been what kept him out of Scotland for the last years of his life.

These four separate accusations have not been proved or disproved conclusively but lead the Cardinal to resign possibly after pressure from the Pope. [7][8][9] [10][11] Keith O'Brien was a friend of notorious Paedophile Jimmy Savile, [12] [13] but accusations against the cardinal are limited to allegations that he took advantage of much younger adult priests and one student priest, also older adults.

Higher ranking priests have frightening and arbitrary power over lower ranking priests. It can be very hard for a young inexperienced priest to resist pressure from an older experienced priest in authority over him even if the younger priest doesn't want to do what the older man wants. An old experienced priest can find it hard to resist pressure from a superior as well. One complainant is, "angry at the system that licked his boots and allowed him to get on with it.”[14]

On the 3rd March 2013 O'Brien admitted unspecified sexual misconduct. [15] Pink News claims O'Brien admitted sexual conduct below expected standards "with four fellow priests". [16] We weren't sure (yet?) if there was serial sexual predation as the accusers allege. In mid March 2013 yet another man said O'Brien groped and kissed him when he was a young student priest. [17] People outside the Roman Catholic Church tend to see such behaviour as inexcusible.

O'Brien's was later even accused of groping [18] or trying to grope another priest in 2003 at a drinks party in Rome to celebrate his becoming a Cardinal. [19] Shall we call that a cardinal grope? O'Brien could have been elected pope in place of Benedict XVI or in place of Pope Francis if he hadn't been exposed. At least the world has been spared a pope who likes to grope.

In spring 2015 there were allegations that young clerics were encouraged to let O'Brien hear their Confessions and the religious act was used for sexual grooming.  Now that showed real respect for the religion O'Brien represented. At least 40 cases were claimed and we can no more than guess how many young men may have suffered lasting psychological damage.  One of the complaining priests said, "It's not the fact that he was gay, which everyone knew about. But that he was a predator." [20] So whenever O'Brien made those public pronouncements against gays it was common knowledge in some places that he had done in secret what he condemned in public. How must everyone who knew have reacted to this?

Victims of O'Brien's sexual abuse felt unable to complain because only a Pope can discipline a cardinal and this hasn't changed. So there could be yet more problems with other cardinals who can't or won't control their sex drives. [21]  The response to the affair demonstrates that secrecy is still “important part of the atmosphere” within the Church.[22]

Note: Any large modern European city like Edinburgh has a vibrant Gay scene [1] where the worthy cardinal could have met willing men. There is no reason for superiors in the Church to prey on reluctant juniors.

Making sex unpleasant for other men

It appears there are two ways O'Brien made sex unpleasant for gay men.

  1. Firstly O'Brien fumed and got angry about gay behaviour and regularly used strong language. For example he described same-sex partnerships as, "harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of those involved". [23] O'Brien wanted Christians to discriminate against gay people for example not giving gays jobs. This type of language certainly caused guilt and distress to gay people who are unfortunate enough to believe Church teachings on the subject. Even gay men and women who accept that side of their nature suffer when Christians are encouraged to discriminate and harass them. One commentator "would have liked for him to acknowledge the central role he has played in encouraging the alienation, bullying and abuse of young, scared teenagers, as well as all LGBT people, in Scotland and beyond. [the commentator] really hope[s] that on some level at least, he understands that the damage he has caused is far from limited to the men he took advantage of."[3]
  2. Men complain that they didn't like O'Brien's sexual attention at all, that O'Brien used his position of power to impose himself onto others and to discourage complaining. One alleged victim said, "You’re controlled. You have no freedom of movement, of action. He can determine what your life is like." At least 40 cases were suggested. [24] Men complain that O'Brien damaged them and they needed counseling afterwards. The experience may not leave them for decades. [25] Predatory sexual relationships (gay or straight) of the type O'Brien is accused of are very harmful for the well being of the victim and corrupt the dominant person. (Perhaps the cardinal didn't understand that equal gay relationships where no one is exploited are usually very much better.} One complainant known as, Lenny who left the priesthood due to O'Brien said, “I’d never wanted to ‘out’ Keith just for being gay. But this was confirming that his behaviour towards me was part of his modus operandi. He has hurt others, probably worse, than he affected me.” [26]

Those who understand psychology may ask themselves:
Did gay sex which made the other man uncomfortable have a special appeal for O'Brien?
We don't know the answer to that question and now he is dead will probably never find out.

Damage limitation

Naturally the Roman Catholic Church moved into damage limitation mode. First they tried to pressure the accusers into silence. Lenny complained of

sensing the cold disapproval of the church hierarchy for daring to break ranks. I feel like if they could crush me, they would. (...) The vacuum the church has created has allowed whimsy and speculation to distort the truth, and the only support I have been offered is a cursory email with a couple of telephone numbers of counsellors hundreds of miles away from me. Anyway, I don't need counselling about Keith O'Brien's unwanted behaviour to me as a young man. But I may need counselling about the trauma of speaking truth to power."[27][28]

The Church was quite prepared to let O'Brien take part in the election of the next Pope and then retire. [27] The accusers weren't satisfied and went public, O'Brien didn't attend the conclave and disappeared from public view till early May 2013. During his absence rumours developed. The general problem of oppressive arbitrary power higher ranking clerics can exercise against juniors has not been resolved.

Christian forgiveness

When he resigned O'Brien 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. [O'Brien later said] To those I have offended I apologise and ask forgiveness. To the Catholic church and people of Scotland, I also apologise. I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic church in Scotland."[29]

So O'Brien hopes others will forgive the harm he did. Well it may be hard to forgive hurt that needed decades of counseling. What should we forgive? We don't know enough.

But O'Brien is not the main victim in this. If people knew what the four's statements contained, they might not dismiss the accusations so readily and call for easy forgiveness. This is not about vengeance. It's about transparency and an end to clericalism. "You cannot forgive," Werner Jeanrond points out, "if you do not know what is to be forgiven." [30]

How consistent is O'Brien? How readily did O'Brien forgive those who went against his wishes.

Memories came flooding back to Lenny, the former priest who has accused O'Brien of inappropriate behaviour. He remembered being a young priest in the 90s and telling O'Brien, then an archbishop, that he could not pledge allegiance to him and was leaving. The cold chill of O'Brien's disapproval followed him down the path of the archbishop's official residence and seeped into him in the dole office (A dole office is ;;UK]] slang for the office where Unemployed people must queue humiliatingly to qualify for benefits.) where he queued for benefits. [30]

How should we react?

  1. Should we hope O'Brien received personally as much sympathy as he was prepared to give Lenny?
  2. Should we be Liberal and hope O'Brien gets better treatment than he was prepared to hand out?

What we should focus on is the arbitrary power superiors in the Roman Catholic Church have over juniors and how that power is abused.

Sexual predator?

Main article: Was Cardinal Keith O'Brien a serial sexual predator?

"'This isn’t justice. Justice needs to be seen to be done and the Catholic Church has a moral and legal obligation to co-operate fully with any criminal investigation.’"- [6]

Regardless of whether or not O'Brien is guilty junior clerics generally are at risk of arbitrary punishment from superiors without the safeguards that exist in a court of law.

We know for certain is that O'Brien broke his vow of Celibacy in unspecified ways. Well celibacy is hard to keep for a lifetime and very many Roman Catholic Priests, Monks and Nuns break their vow. The media assume he's guilty as charged and there's plenty of circumstantial evidence, he's certainly a hypocrite.

O'Brien hasn't denied being a sexual predator but denying that wouldn't get him off the hook. For Conservative Roman Catholics what primarily matters is that a priest broke celibacy. Liberal Catholics pay more attention to issues like consent but conservatives tend to be in control. The non celibate priest may have done the deed:

  1. With a partner who consented willingly
  2. With a partner who consented reluctantly under pressure
  3. With a partner who didn't consent at all
  4. With a partner who was under age.

For conservative Catholics all the above is less important than the breech of celibacy itself. Is that why there are so many accounts of harmful sex by priests round the world?

An alternative that isn't getting enough attention is that O'Brien broke his vow of Celibacy in less harmful ways and is a victim of what passes for justice in the Vatican.

Arbitrary punishment

Roman Catholic so-called justice is arbitrary and unpredictable.

  1. In March 2013 rumours emerged O'Brien had been ordered to "lead the life of a hermit and a shamed recluse." [31]
  2. In May 2013 it appeared O'Brien was lucky and the church let him off lightly. Despite his shame the Sinful Cardinal tried to slink back into a cottage in a pleasant Rural area where he had planned to spend his retirement before the scandal broke. O'Brien had promised to stay out of public life but he would inevitably be publicly visible in that cottage. The Vatican ordered O'Brien out of the UK [32] and he had to do penance at an undisclosed place. [33] We wondered, perhaps O'Brien would surface after a few months, perhaps he'd stay hidden in some prison place of penance for a very long time, even for the rest of his life. Later still he surfaced, visited friends and proved he wasn't being held against his will.
  3. O'Brien in January 2014 was in a very comfortable and expensive home the Roman Catholic Church provided for him in England just south of the Scottish border near Newcastle [34][35] [36] he later moved to Newcastle. Again it looks like he was let off lightly. (There are places in Newcastle where the worthy priest can drink Alcohol and meet willing men if he wants that. See Newcastle gay scene guide Let's hope the men of the Newcastle Gay Village know living near them is an elderly cleric who was thoroughly homophobic in public and, let's say very sexy in private. Let's hope they also know he's been accused of carelessness about the effects of his advances on partners. )

As of 2018 still nothing has been proved through sworn testimony in court and Roman Catholic "justice" has no safeguards for the accused. Has O'Brien committed sexual assaults meriting a Prison sentence? We do not know. Remember in civilized nations people should not be imprisoned without a fair trial and safeguards for the accused. O'Brien escaped severe arbitrary punishment but Others weren't so lucky.

It is suspected two of his accusers had a long term relationship with the sexy cardinal which may or may not have been predatory. Many were frustrated over the way the cardinal condemned homosexuality in public while doing exciting sexy things in private. [37]

The four complainants opposed O'Brien doing Prayer and penance away from Scotland: they said that O'Brien needed psychological counseling rather than prayer and penance. One accusing priest said, "Keith is extremely manipulative and needs help to be challenged out of his denial. If he does not receive treatment, I believe he is still a danger to himself and to others." The four accusers believe there was a smokescreen, with the full story untold, and want an investigation to reveal the extent of O'Brien's predatory behaviour.[38][39]

More concern

Liberapedia was extremely concerned for the psychological well being of vulnerable Men at that undisclosed place of penance, wherever it was. Especially Liberapedia was concerned for the well being of junior priests and seminarians, for the well being of junior monks and novices. We hoped the sexy Cardinal would firmly resist any temptation to exploitative behaviour which may have arisen. In July 2013 The Glasgow Herald claimed O'Brien was in an unspecified enclosed abbey in the English Midlands. [40] I did a search for enclosed abbeys in the English Midlands and found only abbeys with Nuns. Could O'Brien be trusted Not to fiddle with nuns? Even when his preferred partners were hopelessly out of reach and he was getting very frustrated could we trust him to respect the sexual integrity of nuns? Then The Scotsman claimed O'Brien may have been at an undisclosed monastery in Europe. Liberapedia didn't know if men or Women may be at risk from the cardinal's sexual appetites. [41] Still monks or nuns in an enclosed abbey can be trusted not to take complaints beyond the abbey walls. Whatever may or may not have been happening the Roman Catholic Church is unlikely to face further scandal over the Cardinal's behaviour in the abbey.

More on inconsistency

In 2015 under Pope Francis O'Brien was still referred to as an "Emminence" but he renounced all rights and privileges a cardinal normally holds. “His Eminence” couldn't even wear cardinal's regalia outside his home or, for example administer the last rites to a dying road accident victim if he came across such a tragedy. [34] Francis has been accused of inconsistency and of holding different clerics to different standards.

Although he has pledged support for zero tolerance and created a special papal commission to promote reform, Pope Francis has faced criticism for not holding bishops accountable for dropping the ball and for creating new bishops who have a mixed record on misconduct and abuse.[42]

It looks a little bit like it can be OK for a bishop to be sexually abusive just so long as the public doesn't find out. What does that make Francis?

Cardinal becomes victim

Complaints about O'Brien preying on other men refer to the time from the 1980's to the 21st Century. Today it's the other way round,

  1. O'Brien is the victim of sexually titillating gossip in the tabloids where journalists and editors mainly care about getting readers and advertisers to their Newspaper.
  2. O'Brien is also getting responsible exposure in news outlets with a reputation for good journalistic standards like the New York Times,[43] The Guardian and the BBC. Unless people like O'Brien are exposed there will be no pressure on the Roman Catholic Church to reform. Also men thinking of becoming Roman Catholic priests need warnings how little protection they would have from corrupt superiors.

Exposing O'Brien turns him into a victim but helps protect other victims and potential victims from Roman Catholic bullying.

Degree of dishonour

Before the scandal broke those who didn't know O'Brien's real behaviour sometimes imagined he deserved public honour. In 2004 St Andrew's University gave the cardinal an honorary degree in Divinity, that was about a year after O'Brien switched from liberal to conservative Catholic views. [26] In 2015 right thinking people wondered if he should keep that degree. For example Professor Manfredi La Manna wrote,

I, for one, would not recognise as a colleague someone who admitted abusing his position of power for sexual gratification with subordinates. [34]

The university acknowledged "very real hurt and loss" that O'Brien has caused but let him keep that dishonorable degree honour. Well??? Professor La Manna also noted that

I would have thought that as O'Brien's behaviour was considered disreputable enough for the Holy See to withdraw his rights as cardinal, the university would have been on safe grounds by rescinding his honorary degree. But what I consider a symbolic re-affirmation of the values of honour and dignity to be upheld by universities is apparently an 'empty gesture'. It would be interesting to know how low should an honorand's behaviour sink before withdrawing the symbolic honour is deemed appropriate. [44]

In case you haven't come across the word 'honorand' before, it means, "A person to be publicly honoured, especially with an honorary degree" [45]

The academics at St Andrew's University understand the Scientific method, at least they should understand it and they live in O'Brien's former Archdiocese. If they state that O'Brien caused "real loss and hurt" they should know what happened. Why did St Andrews University let such a total hypocrite and problematic person keep an honorary degree? Saint Andrews University takes religion very seriously, there are well known religious studies courses there and the town has important religious History. O'Brien is at least superficially religious and he kept his honorary degree. [46][47]

Too much secrecy

From the time the story broke in 2013 to O'Brien's death very many people have criticised Roman Catholic secrecy.

Catherine Deveney wrote in May 2013,

Some interpreted [the May 2013] statement of O'Brien's exile as Vatican "action". To the four complainants, it was another smokescreen. (...) But if the Vatican really wanted [a period of prayer and penance], why had they not insisted on it immediately? Clearly, it wasn't his sexual misconduct that triggered this statement. So what was it? Key concepts govern Catholic church behaviour: authority, obedience, cover-up, secrecy and clericalism. Clericalism is about deference, a demand for respect without scrutiny. (...) O'Brien's cardinal sin was obvious. Not sexual misconduct. Being visible. The four hardly cared if he was in Scotland. "He's got to live somewhere," one told me. (...) But this is no longer about personal failure. It's about systemic failure. (...) Well, despite what the cardinal once thought, no person or institution is untouchable. Those who know what those four statements contain know they include information that could blow this scandal even higher. That is not a threat. More, a prophetic warning[30]

There was finally a report commissioned into O'Brien and the report was described as, "hot enough to burn the varnish' off Pope's desk". [48] Surprise! Surprise! As of September 2015 the Church hasn't the courage to pubish this steamy report. So the rest of us are wondering! What on Earth could be in there that they don't want us to know.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is concerned in 2015 that transparency Pope Francis promised hasn't happened and the cardinal's wrong or abusive behaviour is still a secret. They complain further clerics who kept silent while O'Brien did whatever he did should be punished.

As it has done with dozens of abusive prelates, the Vatican is disclosing nothing about O'Brien's wrongdoing. There’s no transparency here. Not one Catholic official has disclosed anything of substance about O’Brien’s exploitive misdeeds. And what of his clerical colleagues? Not one of them knew of or suspected that O’Brien was abusing others? That’s pretty hard to believe. Slow and small Vatican steps involving predator clerics aren’t new. Clear and firm Vatican action against complicit bishops would be new. And it would help prevent future cover ups and crimes. But it still isn’t happening. (...) But they refuse to discipline, in any way, clerics who conceal and enable sexual crimes and misdeeds. And until they do, little or nothing will really change. [49]


Sex abuse inquiry

O'Brien personally was only accused of predation on adult men but the sinful cardinal also blocked a report into Child abuse and other types of sex abuse in Scotland. O'Brien cared more about the public image of the Church than about finding the truth.

When the inquiry into abuse in the Scottish Roman Catholic Church was proposed in 2011 all the Scottish bishops agreed to it. A year later in 2012 O'Brien blocked the inquiry then it stopped at that point. A BBC report suggests there will inevitably be suspicion O'Brien was concerned his personal behaviour might come out. [51][52] Campaigners for victims of abuse want an investigation of the way O'Brien dealt with all allegations of abuse while he was leader due to O'Brien's sexual misconduct admission.[53]

Lasting effect

In 2012 O'Brien " was calling homosexuality 'a moral degradation.' Whilst actively pursuing that 'moral degradation' every chance he got, apparently."- [54]

From now on every time we hear or read some Roman Catholic dignitary moralising that we shouldn't do something or other sexual that many of us enjoy doing we will all ask ourselves the following.
How likely is it the worthy cleric has been doing in secret what he tells us publicly not to do? [55]

Sexual hypocrisy is in no way limited to American Protestant WASP's and neither is injustice.

See also


  1. O’Brien’s resignation exposes a panic-struck Church riddled with hypocrisy and guilt
  2. Charisma, courage, but he had too many enemies
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cardinal sin: good bye and good riddance Keith O’Brien
  4. Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980
  5. UK: Lawyer calls for police investigation into the sexual conduct of Cardinal O’Brien
  6. 6.0 6.1 Disgraced Cardinal Keith O'Brien facing possible police investigation as it emerges church officials have 'told him to live as a hermit'
  7. UK's top cardinal accused of 'inappropriate acts' by priests
  8. Top British Cardinal Faces Accusations of Committing ‘Inappropriate Acts’
  9. Britain's Cardinal Keith O'Brien to resign
  10. Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigns as Archbishop
  11. Cardinal Keith O'Brien departs with an apology but no admission as Pope forces him out over allegations of inappropriate behaviour
  12. Jimmy Savile
  13. Jimmy Savile and the Cardinal: Britain's top Catholic cleric was friend of disgraced TV host
  14. Cardinal Keith O'Brien still a danger, say abuse accusersCardinal O’Brien a ‘danger without treatment’
  15. Cardinal Keith O'Brien sorry for sexual misconduct
  16. Cardinal Keith O’Brien says he couldn’t follow Church’s teachings on homosexuality as he prepares for exile
  17. Cardinal Keith O'Brien being sued by alleged abuse victim
  18. Keith O'Brien faces new allegation that he assaulted a priest on the night he was made a cardinal
  19. Cardinal Keith O'Brien accused of sex assault while in office as CardinalO'Brien 'groped' priest the day he became a cardinal
  20. Disgraced Cardinal Keith O'Brien facing fresh accusations of sexual misconduct Cardinal Keith O’Brien abuse ‘dated back to 1985’
  21. Catholic church in Scotland asks forgiveness from child abuse victims
  22. Catholic Church apologises to victims of abuse
  23. Storm over Stonewall's Cardinal Keith O'Brien 'bigot' award
  24. Priest: Keith O’Brien ‘a predator since 1985’
  25. Shamed church leader Cardinal Keith O’Brien: ‘I didn’t always go on the right path’
  26. 26.0 26.1 Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s legacy destroyed
  27. 27.0 27.1 Vatican accused of Cardinal O'Brien cover-up
  28. O'Brien priest worries that church wants to 'crush' him
  29. Cardinal Keith O'Brien admits and apologises for sexual misconduct
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Three months on, a cardinal is banished but his church is still in denial
  31. Disgraced cardinal Keith O'Brien facing possible police investigation as it emerges church officials have 'told him to live as a hermit'Disgraced Cardinal Keith O'Brien facing possible police investigation
  32. Disgraced cardinal Keith O’Brien creeps back into Scotland, only to be told to leave the the UKCardinal ordered into exile by VaticanVatican 'orders Cardinal Keith O'Brien to leave Scotland'
  33. Cardinal Keith O’Brien leaves Scotland under Vatican pressure
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 Pope revokes rights of Cardinal Keith O’Brien
  35. Revealed: Sex shame cardinal Keith O'Brien enjoying retirement in £208k Northumberland bungalow provided by Catholic Church
  36. Shamed Keith O’Brien in £209k home owned by church
  37. Cardinal Keith O'Brien Had Physical Relationship With Accuser, Report ClaimsCardinal was in physical relationship with accuser
  38. Cardinal Keith O'Brien still a danger, say abuse accusers
  39. So wait for the next thrilling installment.
  40. Officially shamed, but Keith O'Brien may attend historic meeting of Catholic clerics in Rome
  41. Cardinal Keith O’Brien successor to be named
  42. In rare step, Scottish prelate caught in sex scandal quits as cardinal
  43. Following Resignation, Top British Cardinal Acknowledges Sexual Misconduct
  44. Cardinal O’Brien to keep his degree despite complaints
  45. honorand
  46. Cardinal Keith O'Brien's honorary degree will not be revoked
  47. University refuses to strip honorary degree from disgraced Cardinal O’Brien
  48. Pope accepts disgraced Cardinal O'Brien's resignation from public role
  49. Pope under fire as disgraced anti-gay cleric quits as cardinalScotland--Scottish Cardinal resignsCardinal steps down over sexual impropriety allegations, a first since 1927
  50. Pope accepts disgraced Cardinal O'Brien's resignation from public role
  51. Live 2-way for BBC News on Cardinal Keith O'Brien sex allegations
  52. Cardinal O'Brien stopped probe of Scottish abuse files, says ContiCardinal blocked abuse investigation, says Archbishop of GlasgowCardinal Keith O'Brien 'blocked church sex abuse report', says archbishop
  53. Scottish priests 'out of control sexually', says former abuse adviser
  54. Cardinal Keith O'Brien was turned in by his priest boyfriend
  55. Cardinal Keith O'Brien's Departure Divides Society

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