Keith Cardinal O’Brien, archbishop since 1985 of Edinburg and St. Andrews, Scotland, had his resignation accepted by Pope Benedict XVI effective yesterday, weeks before his 75th birthday.
What’s more, O’Brien has recused himself from the upcoming conclave.
It appears that credible accusations have been made against O’Brien concerning inappropriate advances toward seminarians many years ago, and “inappropriate contact” with at least one priest over the years. Denying the allegations, he nonetheless said, “I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me – but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor.” So he will not go for the conclave.
While obviously the best scenario would be none of the accusations being credibly made because he had been a saintly man for the past thirty years, given the credibility of the accusations that have been made, his decision to refrain from taking part in the conclave is admirable and welcome.
Which brings us to Roger Cardinal Mahony, archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, whom, we now know, intentionally and knowingly shielded from prosecution priests who were known to have sexually abused minors.
I’ll not get into the moral balancing act of “which action is worse, inappropriate advances toward seminarians and other priests or shielding an abuser,” because neither is remotely acceptable, or even rationalize-able-because-of-the-times, conduct for a prelate. But if O’Brien so quickly and simply removes himself out of a desire to protect the Church from the taint of his involvement, why cannot Mahony see the virtue in that action also?
To be sure, Mahony has the right to attend the conclave as a cardinal of the Church younger than 80 years old, and I have defended that right to others who think he ought not have that right. But having a right to do something and exercising that right are different things.
Perhaps this will give those like Velasio Cardinal De Paolis more “oomph” when trying to persuade Mahony to stay home and assist the conclave through great prayer and sacrifice.
The Church needs to move beyond the scandals, not only through increased child protection measures (which have been implemented over the past decade or so) and better transparency (also well underway, though it will likely never reach the levels demanded by some groups, and that’s not a bad thing) but also by accelerating as much as prudent the turnover rate of those responsible for the scandals and cover-ups. A conclave with as few tainted cardinals as possible would be a great help on that score.