Cardinal O’Brien – What’s the Real Issue?

Extraordinary news this weekend as Cardinal O’Brien, the most senior Roman Catholic priest in the United Kingdom, admitted “ there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”. The response from some parts of the media has been almost gleeful.

Cardinal Keith O'BrienCardinal Keith O’Brien, who was forced to resign by the pope last week, has made a dramatic admission that he was guilty of sexual misconduct throughout his career in the Roman Catholic church.

In a short but far-reaching statement issued late on Sunday, the 74-year-old stated that “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”.

The former archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and until recently the most senior Catholic in Britain, apologised and asked for forgiveness from those he had “offended” and from the entire church.

O’Brien’s much wider admissions are a significant rebuff to some senior figures in the Scottish church who had repeatedly downplayed the allegations disclosed in the Observer, calling them unsubstantiated, non-specific and anonymous.

The cardinal’s office warned the Observer it faced legal action after it first contacted him. In further disclosures this weekend, the Observer reported that one complainant had alleged: “He started fondling my body, kissing me and telling me how special I was to him and how much he loved me.”

In a fresh interview with the Observer, the former priest, who made his complaint to the nuncio in early February, said that after his disclosures he sensed “the cold disapproval of the church hierarchy for daring to break ranks. I feel [that] if they could crush me, they would.”

O’Brien’s resignation was remarkable in its speed; his apology is all but unprecedented in its frankness. Many sexual scandals or allegations of misconduct against individuals or the wider church have dragged on for years.

What to make of all this? A number of thoughts.

  1. There are cries of “hypocrisy” all over the internet this morning. We need to be very clear what hypocrisy is and isn’t. Hypocrisy is saying one thing in public and doing another in private at the same time. Hypocrisy is not doing one thing in private at one point, realising it was wrong and then in the future arguing publicly against the action you have performed.
    Of course this gets complicated, because what happens if someone has been sexually active in some form in the past, privately repents but never addresses his misdemeanour with those he abused? Pastorally this is a big deal – if you have a porn habit there are very few people to apologise to, but if you abused your position and “tried it on” with someone, you really do need to go back to that person and apologise. Of course, we don’t know if Keith O’Brien has or hasn’t done that, but the principle is correct – if I have wronged you I should go to you and apologise for that wronging.
    Want to get even more complicated? Sometimes people engage in consensual sin and then repent. Do they need to go back to the person they sinned with and say “You know what, what we did was wrong”? Well some people do and some don’t but either way we can recognise this is a different situation to a more abusive sexual encounter.
    If Keith O’Brien was publicly teaching one thing and privately practising another, then that’s hypocrisy. If on the other hand he sinned in the past, repented and then taught that such behaviour he had engaged in was sinful, that’s not hypocrisy, that’s grace.
  2. Speaking of hypocrisy, it’s very interesting the way that the media are conflating this case of adult sexual activity by serving Roman Catholic priests with the paedophilia scandals, as though the two were related. Whenever conservatives (incorrectly let’s be clear) try to conflate paedophilia and homosexuality the liberal commentariat jump on them with, well, gay abandon. So why is it acceptable for the editors of Radio 4’s Today programme to write a script that lumps Keith O’Brien’s actions and the paedophilia abuse together as one and the same problem?
  3. The problem for the wider church in all this (Roman Catholic, Anglican and the rest) is that events like this challenge us as to how we handle public exposure of our sexuality. It is undeniable that there are certain parts of the Church where simply being homosexual is a one-way route to a cul-de-saced career. This is a major issue in the conservative elements of the church, who have no problem in putting on a pedestal those who can act as poster-boys for a particular political agenda, but when it comes to actually supporting pastoral ministry in this area suddenly the money and support dries up.
    The liberal wing has absolutely no problem in this area, because those who have same-sex attraction and what to embrace it find a welcome home in many congregations. For conservatives it’s a bit more difficult. We have very few role-models for living chastely if one is predominantly homosexual, and far too often the “solution” proffered by some is to attempt sexual orientation change, as though “being straight” was somehow morally superior to “being gay”. In reality, sexual temptation and sin straddles every sector of the Kinsey Scale and all sections of society. And lest we forget, Jesus taught us that our basic brokenness in this area, as well as many others, is revealed not so much in what we do but simply what we think and feel.
    So what to do? Giles Fraser’s response on this morning’s Thought for the Day was to suggest that the solution is for the Churches to adopt modern morals and drop the notion that homosexual practice is sinful. Apparently the problem is that those with same-sex attraction repress their sexuality and if only we celebrated homosexual desire that would solve the problem. In reality the problem is not so much that the Church doesn’t embrace the modern sexual revolution (this is not a problem but something to be celebrated) but rather that the culture that exists in some places is to stymie the kind of openness about sexual attractions that would let people live more emotionally healthy lives.

Rosary on BibleIn some senses what we need to move on in this area is for the Churches to have a positive welcome for those who struggle in the area of same-sex attraction and not to treat them as pariahs. Unless we can provide such pastoral support and such an openness and honesty about our brokenness then we can never offer a safe-space for those struggling with this or other issues. That requires courage from the church – not the kind of “courage” which is simply an endorsement of sin and a collapse of moral standards but rather the courage to stand as broken men and women who rely on grace to move on day by day in the task of discipleship, dying to self and rising in Christ. It requires supporting and funding such ministry, not pushing it to the margins and avoiding issues that are “controversial” in the appointments process.

If the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England are serious about wanting to help those like Keith O’Brien bring congruence between their faith and their sexual desires, then they need to reach into their pockets to do so. Until that happens, we will continue to lack the public pastoral and theological frameworks to back-up all our well-meaning conservative statements as to what Christian discipleship should look like. If anything, Keith O’Brien’s experience should be seen not just as a warning to the Church hierarchy as to what happens when you don’t provide the structures to back up the sound-bites but also an opportunity to finally address this issue properly from a conservative position.

42 Comments on “Cardinal O’Brien – What’s the Real Issue?

  1. The central point surely is that he was repeatedly shouting at other people – in the most over the top terms – about something that it’s implied he was doing at every stage of his career (‘priest, bishop and cardinal’ or however it went). If he’d gone at this subject by saying ‘actually, I only fancy men myself, but my religion leads me to believe that I shouldn’t act on that’ — then liberals still wouldn’t agree with him, but they’d be in no position to call him a hypocrite. As it is, it’s a fair cop.

    I believe Benedict has said that if you’re gay, you shouldn’t ever mention to anyone that you’re gay — so it’s not just the act they can’t cope with, but the mere mention of it. This leads to a very central standoff with liberals standing for truth, and conservative Catholics effectively standing for lies. That’s the real disgrace, and the reason why they are not going to live this down very easily.

    • “I believe Benedict has said that if you’re gay, you shouldn’t ever mention to anyone that you’re gay.”

      Citation needed, as they say on Wikipedia. I’m happy to be proved wrong, but I’d be very surprised if Benedict ever said any such thing.

      • No, Benedict hasn’t said precisely that, but what he has said amounts, for all practical purposes to the same thing. Here is what he wrote when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition):

        ‘The “sexual orientation” of a person is not comparable to race, sex, age, etc. also for another reason than that given above which warrants attention. An individual’s sexual orientation is generally not known to others unless he publicly identifies himself as having this orientation or unless some overt behaviour manifests it. As a rule, the majority of homosexually-oriented persons who seek to lead chaste lives do not want or see no reason for their sexual orientation to become public knowledge. Hence the problem of discrimination in terms of employment, housing, etc. does not arise.’ (Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons, #14, June 1992)

        On other words if you find yourself being discriminated against for being gay, the fault lies not with the person doing the discriminating, but with you for being so bloody stupid as to let people know that you’re gay.

          • I disagree. I think that’s precisely what he meant. If you have an alternative interpretation, I’d be glad to hear it.

            • On the other hand, you do actually have a point. The purpose of the anti-discimination law is to make sure that nobody is penalised for having made their orientation public (eg. by turning up to a hotel with their same-sex partner). I think what Ratzinger is getting at is that anti-discrimination law then makes it very difficult for the Church to challenge behaviour because their not allowed to distinguish between the person and the behaviour in the way that they’ve attempted to do in the past.

              • This document, “Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons”, was not about the Church challenging behaviour. It was about opposing civil legislation forbidding discrimination against people in employment, housing etc. on the grounds of their sexual orientation. I wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, at the time, telling him that the document was a shame and a disgrace to the Catholic Church.

        • I’ve got to admit, Guglielmo, that when I get to that part of gvt. forms asking about my sexual orientation, I do have the very strong urge to write, ‘my sexual fantasies are none of your business’. The fact is, it’s quite an odd thing that we’re being asked to disclose something that isn’t (like race, age or sex) externally obvious. And, yes, I know being gay isn’t all about sex, but the emotional aspect is quite private too.

        • I agree, people shouldn’t have to tick these boxes and usually on trust that the receiver is disinterested. I used to tick “do not wish to say” out of solidarity there. I can’t be bothered now : |

    • We don’t yet know if the “as Cardinal” part of his statement refers to sexual errors or other things. As I pointed out above, if he was saying one thing in public and doing the opposite in private **at the same time** then he is a hypocrite.

      You would need to source that Joseph Ratzinger quote for me in order for me to comment on it.

      • and @Niall – I am admittedly quoting from memory, but I’ll see if I can dig it out.

        I think it’s a bit straw-clutching though to assume anything other than that this has been a continuous thing throughout his career – the specific naming of all his posts directly in relation to an admission of sexual misconduct seems like a hard thing to read any other way.

  2. Speaking of hypocrisy, it’s very interesting the way that the media are
    conflating this case of adult sexual activity by serving Roman Catholic
    priests with the paedophilia scandals, as though the two were related.

    But they are.

    Two things: the complaints centre on young wet-behind-the-ears seminarians being abused in some way or another by people in a position of trust. You (I would hope) know as well as I do that the CRB is supposed to safeguard the vulnerable – and that means not just children, but people with disabilities and (arguably) people in situations such as this. How much the C of E actually cares to obey the spirit of the law (every church has its Diocese-imposed policy on safeguarding children; very few talk about vulnerable adults) is another question.

    Secondly, at least some of the complainants were below any sort of age of consent when this happened. The media do not bother to differentiate between abusing children and activities involving young people who are sexually mature but under the age of consent. They do so for the good reason that the law generally doesn’t draw such a hard-and-fast line either.

    The allegations made could lead to criminal charges and should be investigated as such.

    who was in Gloucester at the time of the Bishop Ball story, in many ways a similar case

    • If the stories are similar then it is because they involve abuse. It is the conflating of homosexuality and paedophilia that is the issue for me.
      The Age of Consent issue is an interesting one. At the time the age of consent was 21 in Scotland (if these things happened after 1980 – if not then they were illegal). Now my problem with this is that with one breath liberals are arguing that prior offenses committed by gay men because they engaged in sex that was technically criminal should be dropped and wiped from the records now such sexual acts are legal. If that is so, why are the same liberal complaining that O’Brien committed sexual improprieties with someone below the (then) age of consent?

      The issue is abuse of position, not the sexual activity (or lack of it) itself per se.

      • He of course neither should nor could be prosecuted for an act which is now legal, even if his lover was under 21 or it was before 1980 etc etc. Are there really examples of liberals calling for him to be prosecuted on these terms? If yes, then I’d be glad of a link (and, if they exist, I think they have noodles for brains).

      • You make a good point about consistency there. Re harm and pornography I have noticed that otherwisevery nice guys can be affected by an inclination to violation in attitude to those around them (like wanting to tear people down). That I think is a regretable and harmful consequence (although they wouldn’t necessarily personally apologise. I don’t think they are aware of it).

  3. It’s a common ploy of liberals to accuse any sinner who condemns sin (and espcailly the sins of which he himself is guilty) as a ‘hypocrite’, and this is something which Christians should strenuously resist. We are called to recognise and repent of our own sins, and yet how can we do that if we are afraid even to name them as sin?

    We don’t, of course, know exactly what Cardinal O’Brien did or when, but even if he engaged in sexual contact with men last month or last week that doesn’t necessarily make him a hypocrite, provided he was truly penitent and seeking amendment of life. What if it was a besetting sin, one which he had grappled with and been tortured by for most of his adult life? How much easier it would have been to make his excuses for himself, to try and convince himself that his sin wasn’t really a sin, or that it didn’t matter much.
    You were brave to speak out as you did, Cardinal O’Brien. Thankfully, God and not the media will be your judge; may you find some spiritual peace in retirement.

  4. I think the real hypocrites here are the people with the morals of an alley cat who are glorying in Cardinal O’Brien’s downfall. The bar on moral standards is quite rightly set very high for Christians, and any of us can fall from grace on occasion. But some of those who pillory him now are the same ones who are demanding that the age of consent be lowered to 14, which would have lifted most of the so-called ‘paedophile priests’ out of the equation altogether, as most of the abuses were against boys aged 14 to 18.

    • Well, I certainly don’t glory in Cardinal O’Brien’s downfall; I think it very sad indeed that his active ministry should end in this way. I really couldn’t care less how appropriate or inappropriate it is to describe his behaviour as hypocritical.

      What is far more important is the question, What can the RC Church learn from this affair? Well, it can learn that it has long been setting itself up for this kind of situation by its own teaching on homosexuality. How many young gay Catholic men over the decades have taken that teaching seriously and have tried, for that very reason, to cop out of being gay by entering the priesthood? (I know about this because I was once tempted to do it, although I fortunately rejected the temptation, and I can’t say how glad I am.) It doesn’t work, of course. One of my friends got caught while still in the seminary – presumably behind the bike sheds – and was ignominiously expelled. He was one of the lucky ones. The ones whom I weep for are those who go through with it and then realise, when they are well and truly trapped in the priesthood, that they have simply taken a problem which has been created by the Church’s abusive teaching and have added a further one thereto.

      However, I fear that the RC Church, like most institutions, is far too arrogant to learn a lesson of this kind.

      • I argue above that the issue isn’t the teaching of sexual behaviour but rather the pastoral support and ecclesiastical environment that accompanies the teaching.

        • I think many many different people are interested in what other people have to say about “sex”; without good “teaching”/guidance they will hear views that are just reactions to another I think in order to try and create a balance.

        • I think we need to put this in context. Heterosexual men rape their girlfriends, married men are addicted to porn, men cheat on their civil partners. At bottom is this really a problem of celibacy, homosexuality or repression, as everyone is assuming?

            • Don’t make fun of my cybername :) This is a genuine question. I’ve got into too much trouble for being too opinionated on this website, so am trying to be discursive.

        • I agree with you Peter… though we can’t just blame the ‘system’ when people sin!

          The relational coldness and distance of UK society is reflected too much in church culture, and that leaves men (and women too) very vulnerable to the sexual temptations our promiscuous society surrounds us with!

          Time for a new monastic movement?

      • What do you suggest, Guglielmo? That they live in openly gay relationships?
        Enforced celibacy, whatever you think of it, applies to all Catholic priests, gay or straight. If the straight ones can remain celibate, so must they.

        • Jill, I’m perfectly well aware that celibacy applies to all Catholic priests, whether they are gay or straight, and I have neither suggested nor implied otherwise. I don’t myself agree with the imposition of mandatory celibacy, but I am not concerned to argue that question here. My point at this juncture is quite a different one. It is that the unenlightened teaching of the RC Church has placed many gay Catholic men in a serious dilemma which some, or even perhaps many, have in the past misguidedly attempted to resolve by choosing to enter the priesthood.

          The case of Cardinal O’Brien is certainly a sad one, and I have no doubt that there are plenty of other cases like which haven’t come to light. Although any display of schadenfreude would be absolutely inappropriate, some good may come out of it: it may serve as a warning to young gay Catholic men that, if being gay is a problem for them – although it shouldn’t be – entering the priesthood, far from solving the problem, will almost certainly compound it.

          • But why does it place gay catholic men in a dilemma and not straight ones? They are all supposed to be celibate. Are you saying they might be entering the priesthood to try and straighten themselves out? Or that they are incapable of controlling themselves? In either case, I think they are a little confused about their calling!

            • Jill, let me explain. Straight Catholic men are given a choice. If they want to be priests, they are required to be celibate. (Some disagree with this, and I do myself.) But they don’t HAVE to be priests. Those who don’t choose the priesthood – which, of course, means the vast majority – are not told that they must remain celibate all their lives. They are allowed a sexual relationship called marriage. But if you are a gay Catholic man, you are told that your sexual orientation is “an intrinsically disordered condition” and that therefore, even though you don’t want to be a priest, you must spend the rest of your life with no prospect of a legitimate loving sexual relationship with anyone.

              If you take your religion seriously, and if you swallow this cruel and abusive nonsense – and not all do, of course – then you have a very bleak prospect ahead of you. Life seems to have no purpose. But you can give your lonely life a purpose, as you mistakenly think, by becoming a priest. In fact, isn’t it obvious that that must be what God is calling you to do? What nobler calling could there be? And since you’ll be celibate, you won’t have to deal with your sexuality at all. Furthermore, if God is really calling you to the priesthood, then clearly you can’t really have this “intrinsically disordered condition” after all, so you can just bury the “issue” for good. But it’s an illusion. It’s rather like shoving an unpaid bill away in a drawer and hoping that it won’t come again.

              The above is, I’m sure, a fair summary of the process by which some (or many?) gay Catholic men who have no vocation to the priesthood manage to convince themselves that they do have a vocation. As long ago as the early years of the last century, the ex-priest Joseph McCabe (formerly the Very Revd Father Anthony, O.S.F.) wrote in his book, “Twelve Years in a Monastery”, that the young man who takes a vow of celibacy “has signed a blank cheque, on which nature may one day write a fearful sum.” I don’t think that McCabe had gay clergy in mind when he wrote that, but his words could not have been more apposite if he had.

              Have I explained clearly enough now, Jill? Do you think you’ve grasped it?

              • You may have a point, Guglielmo. I know cases in evangelical circles of gay men being encouraged towards the ministry – something to keep them occupied and perhaps looking for a sense of family? Sometimes they really do have a calling, but perhaps assuming this is a solution isn’t the most sensible of plans.

              • Guglielmo, nobody HAS to be a priest. I can certainly hear what you are saying, but you seem to imply that men who are sexually attracted to men should have a special dispensation. (It is the Bible which calls homosexual practice a sin, not just the catholic church.) Straight men who are called to the priesthood have tremendous sacrifices to make too.

                I’m not an unfeeling person, but I have tried putting myself in the place of a gay catholic man who wanted to be obedient to the teaching of the church – and the last place I would go to avoid the temptations of the flesh would be a place full of men and no women, which would obviously (or so it seems to me) include other gay men.

                • Jill, you leave me quite bewildered. I can find nothing whatever in what I have written which remotely implies that I think that men who are sexually attracted to men should have a special dispensation. While I do not agree with my church’s imposition of universal celibacy on the clergy, nowhere have I suggested that a gay priest who has taken a vow of celibacy is any less bound by it than a straight man who has taken a similar vow. Nor have I suggested or implied that straight men who are called to the priesthood have fewer or less demanding sacrifices to make than gay men.

                  I am not here concerned with what the Bible says about homosexual practice (or, to be more accurate, with what the very few biblical authors who mention the subject at all say about it), or with what the church says about it, although I will not conceal the fact that I disagree with both.

                  You say that you have tried putting yourself in the place of a gay Catholic man who wanted to be obedient to the teaching of the Church. You haven’t been very successful, although I would hardly expect you to be, since you are not a man, not a Catholic and not gay. I have a considerable advantage over you in all three respects. A gay Catholic man who buys into the teaching of the Church on homosexuality is a in a very difficult position. Unlike a straight Catholic man, he is precluded by the teaching of his church from seeking a life partner – unless he contracts a sham (heterosexual) marriage, thus complicating someone else’s life as well as his own. And how does he explain to his religious family why he remains single? Does he tell them that the reason is that, in the language of the former Cardinal Ratzinger, he is suffering from an inclination which, although it is not itself a sin, is a more or less strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil and must therefore be seen as an objective disorder? This may not be so much of a problem nowadays, but it will have been for most gay Catholics over the age of 30, and certainly for a man of Cardinal O’Brien’s generation. Joining the priesthood seems to offer a solution, albeit an illusory one, to this dilemma. That, I submit, is how the RC Church has managed to draw into its priesthood gay men who ought not to be priests, not because they are gay, but because they have no real priestly vocation, and have joined the priesthood as a result of anti-gay spiritual terrorism.

                  • Well, you know what they say – if you don’t like the rules, don’t join the club! This is a particularly fruitless conversation, because the catholic church isn’t going to change any time soon, and anyhow, Christian moral teaching – whether you like it or not – is for the good of mankind, not just the individual. You have to admit that homosexual activity does not contribute anything good to mankind, or to the individual. Nothing good can come out of it. The bible only mentions homosexual activity, not preferences – there is nothing unscriptural about friendship.

                    I don’t buy the stuff about singleness. Lots of people are single. Countless millions of people have managed to get through life without sex.

                    • “Well, you know what they say – if you don’t like the rules, don’t join the club!”

                      A typically crass thing to say, Jill, illustrating once again your detachment from reality. The vast majority of the gay Catholic men who have mistakenly tried to resolve their dilemma – a dilemma which they haven’t chosen – by entering the priesthood haven’t joined the club (i.e. the RC Church); they have been born into it; they are what used to be called “cradle Catholics”. And nearly all of them (except perhaps for a handful of severely disturbed individuals who were trying to make their lives as difficult and guilt-ridden as possible) will have had a sincere and firm intention of keeping the celibacy rule, since they were joining the priesthood for that very reason.

                      I agree that the Catholic Church isn’t going to change its teaching on homosexuality any time soon, but nothing good will come out of its refusal to change. In the future, however, it will have far fewer gay priests who have been “guilted” into the priesthood in a vain attempt to flee from their sexuality, because ever more gay Catholic men nowadays are simply not prepared to do that; they reject that teaching as an irrelevancy. Hence, hopefully, there will be far fewer imbroglios of the Cardinal O’Brien/Cardinal Groer type.

                      No, I most certainly do not have to “admit that homosexual activity does not contribute anything good to mankind, or to the individual.” I expressly deny it. Unlike some people, I don’t think highly of C.S. Lewis as an apologist for Christianity. However, when he was just talking about everyday life and common sense, he was often very wise and perceptive. Here is what he had to say about friendship: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself. … It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” And that is precisely also the virtue of gay relationships.

                      Yes, lots of people are single. Some are happy; some are not. No doubt there are even some who would not be happy unless they were single. But being perpetually single is not, in general, conducive to happiness; rather the contrary. If you are going to maintain otherwise, then you need to answer such questions as: Why is celibacy regarded as a sacrifice (even if some consider it one worth making)? Why did you, yourself, clearly imply in a previous post that it was a sacrifice, using that very word? How many parents WANT their children to remain single all their lives? How many envisage for their children a blissful future of singleness?

                      You say that “Countless millions of people have managed to get through life without sex.” So what? No doubt just as many people have managed to get through life without music, which is in no way essential to life. That doesn’t mean that it should be denied to those who want it. My life has certainly been richer for music, and I’m sure that countless millions of people would say the same. It is certainly not for you or anyone else to decide that gay people are obliged to remain single, whether they want to or not. We have no such obligation.

                    • ‘…refusal to change’. Change into what? Something that isn’t the catholic church?

                      I still don’t understand why you think it is only gay priests who struggle to maintain celibacy. You say they are ‘guilted’ into the priesthood, but why? I thought one had to have a calling. There is no shame in being single; surely nobody would enter the priesthood, that bastion of temptation for gay men, to flee from their sexuality? It seems more like diving headfirst into it to me. You are right, I don’t understand.

                      Perhaps it will be a good thing if gay catholic men stopped entering the priesthood. Perhaps that will make the leadership think again about allowing married men. Would that suit you?

                      Anyhow, as we are obviously not going to agree I shall make this my last post here.

                    • Jill, if you disagree with the points that I have made, that’s fine; you have every right to disagree; but you are wasting your time and mine when you comment, not on what I have actually said, but on a distortion of what I have said, or on things that I have never said.

                      “ ‘…refusal to change’. Change into what? Something that isn’t the catholic church?”

                      I didn’t say change INTO anything. The first half of the sentence from which you have quoted that phrase made it absolutely clear that I meant refusal to change its teaching. If it did change its teaching – and it certainly won’t during my lifetime, if ever, but if it did – would it thereby change into something that isn’t the Catholic Church? There is no logical reason to think so.

                      “I still don’t understand why you think it is only gay priests who struggle to maintain celibacy.”

                      I don’t understand why you think that I think this. I have never said it or anything that remotely implies it, and it can’t be a case of telepathy, because I have never thought it either.

                      “You say they are ‘guilted’ into the priesthood, but why? I thought one had to have a calling.”

                      Yes, one SHOULD have a calling. But there are people who enter the priesthood for other reasons and who manage to convince themselves that they do have a calling, even if they don’t. The bishop will not ordain any candidate whom he does not believe to have a calling, but he has no means of verifying this with certainty. There is no blood test or X-ray for priestly vocation.

                      Of course people would enter the priesthood to flee from their sexuality. If you can’t understand that, you need a better imagination. An unfortunate gay man who is a serious practising Catholic and has allowed himself to be convinced that his sexuality is “an objective disorder”, and that any expression of it is a sin, is especially likely to feel that the discipline of a celibate priesthood is just what he needs to help him to avoid that “sin” and to give a meaning to the life of singleness that he believes that he is obliged to live. He will therefore probably be able persuade himself that God must be calling him to such a life.

                      A gay priest can experience sexual temptation just as a gay layman can (and just as a straight priest or layman can), but why you should regard the priesthood as a bastion of temptation, I cannot fathom. Why the hell would a gay man who wants to have gay sex go to all the trouble of becoming a priest IN ORDER to do it? Perhaps you’ll kindly tell me what you imagine that the priesthood offers that the nearest gay club doesn’t?

                      “Perhaps it will be a good thing if gay catholic men stopped entering the priesthood.”

                      Well, I think that we would agree there. At any rate, those who are doing it in an attempt to deny or escape from their sexuality certainly should stop entering the priesthood, since it won’t solve their “problem” and is likely to lead to further problems. But far fewer gay Catholic men are doing this nowadays, because most of them rightly no longer see being gay as a problem. It is those who ill-advisedly did it years ago and who are still in the priesthood who are at risk of coming to grief. I don’t know the details of Cardinal O’Brien’s life, but he sounds like a case in point.

    • ” the real hypocrites here are the people with the morals of an alley cat who are glorying in Cardinal O’Brien’s downfall”

      Yes, I have been wondering recently about the morally superior vantage point from which liberal bloggers and members of the media organisations gleefully commentate on O’Brien’s admitted, and that liberal peer’s alleged, impropriety with younger adults who were junior to them in the ranks of their respective organisations.

      None of them would ever have slept with a colleague, tried chatting up an attractive junior staff member, or tried to seduce their boss/employer of course…

  5. I think the other thing to consider is that we may be dealing with a hypothetical problem that isn’t the real problem. From a conservative perspective, gay non-celibate priests are not being sufficiently supported, and are hence falling from grace. From a liberal perspective, people are inhabiting organisations which make it difficult to tell the truth about their desires without paying a price for it (which may range from complete eviction to just a quiet failure to progress in the church).

    But one of the things they say about the Catholic enclave in Edinburgh – which is certainly true of cliques across the C of E too – is that it is very gay. Within that gay enclave, men may be actually perfectly happy in their secret naughty club, and feel no desire to be celibate, but actually feel most threatened by the liberals, demanding that they live an open life. They essentially want to be like Noel Coward, whose gay identity was very much built around not being out to people not in his club (in his case, actors). But it ain’t 1940 any more. From both sides of the ideological fence, we assume that O’Brien and people like him are deeply conflicted, but they might not be – and in the case of the younger shagging priests of the Vatican, they almost certainly aren’t. The distress for them comes when the liberals (people like me) and the conservatives (people like you) both conspire to open their gentleman’s-club-in-Schroedinger’s-box and stop them from having it both ways.

    • “Total fraud” is a bit strong. The Kinsey scale is still a useful tool for some in qualifying sexual attraction, though of course the “10%” figure has now been largely discredited.

      • Yes, the scale i8s very useful – and rather undermines the “gay or straight” paradigm. This “either or” paradigm is oine of the fallacies that underpin the case for gay marriage – along with the fallacies that marriage is nothing to do with human biology, or physiology….

        However, I’m not sure that the 10% figure was unreasonable, he just did take into account that many of his subjects were in single-sex institutions.. It is known that more people engage in same-sex sex in such environments – whether in prisons, in boarding schools or onboard ship..

        Was Kinsey pointing us to evídence that sexual attraction is strongly influenced by environment?..

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