The Cardinals and reverse psychology

Papal Conclave-005

The words of the Secretariat of State seem particularly prescient in the light of the damaging allegations that have surfaced regarding Cardinal Keith O’Brien in this morning’s Guardian.

Once again the media seem to be disregarding the rules surrounding natural justice and due process that would be followed in any criminal court, namely a presumption of innocence until proof to the contrary, and are commenting upon these allegations as those they were established fact, with the usual suspects rubbing their hands in glee, not least those who thought Cardinal O’Brien’s Bigot of the Year award, fitting.

With regards to the allegations, the following questions present themselves:

  • Why are they only being made now? If the concern has to do with whether or not Cardinal O’Brien should be allowed to vote in the Conclave, why given the age of the alleged incidents, did the accusers not make known their concerns prior to the conclave of 2005, or even earlier in 2001, when it was announced that O’Brien would be elected to the college of cardinals?
  • Do the comments surrounding priestly celibacy have anything to do with this not least in terms of the media exposure of Cardinal O’Brien of late? Does Cardinal O’Brien’s stance on gay marriage have any part to play on behalf of those who would seek to expose or out him? It ties into the first point – the timing seems peculiar.
  • Who leaked the nuncio’s emails to the Guardian and why?
  • If these allegations do turn out to be sadly true, it would not appear that any criminal offence has been committed. These would appear to be consenting adults – there are no accusations of assault. Surely this would be an internal church matter and not within the remit of secular authority? Cardinal O’Brien is due to retire in a month’s time, what action are the priests expecting the church to take? An individual’s sexuality should have no bearing when it comes to prayerfully discerning whom the Holy Spirit might be guiding into the Chair of St Peter. It sets a very dangerous precedent to assume that clerics are guilty of any allegations without due process being followed and neither is it for the secular world to interfere in the internal processes of the church. So far, we have had one side of the story and it would seem very much as though Cardinal O’Brien is subject to trial by media.

All of which brings me neatly onto Cardinal Mahony, who due to his mishandling of priests guilty of sexual abuse in his diocese, is also subject to similar calls to stay away from the conclave. Let’s be clear. Cardinal Mahony, though guilty of severe negligence is not a pedophile or abuser himself. It’s hard to get one’s head around why he didn’t report these abhorrent crimes to the police, or at the very least lock the perpetrators up in a remote monastery somewhere, but as has been documented, times were different then. The psychology of abusers was not understood in the same way, it was genuinely believed that therapy could cure a disordered sexuality, and the abusers’ professions of repentance were taken at face value.

There’s a whole essay into the factors contributing to the abuse that took place and its subsequent cover-up by local diocesan bishops and parallels to be drawn with what happened in other non-Church institutions such as for example the BBC, but it isn’t fair to imply, nor is there evidence to suggest, that those who did cover-up the scandal, did so because they didn’t care about the victims or because they thought that abusers were likely to re-offend and simply didn’t care, what enquiry after enquiry has demonstrated is that they were misdirected out of love for the church and actually ignored the regulations that were already in place which directed bishops to report these crimes to the police. There is no basis for the claim that various bishops simply didn’t care – the credible answer is, that as prelates such as Mahoney have testified, they simply didn’t get it.

Does that mean he should be disbarred from voting in the conclave to satisfy the demands of a baying press? I would posit that a Cardinal who has personally faced the scandal of clerical sex abuse and who has faced widespread criticism and rebuke not only from the outside world, but also from his peers, would be ideally placed to prayerfully reflect upon who should succeed Pope Benedict and which candidate may possess the necessary qualities. Cardinal Mahony indisputably knows the enormity of the scandal and the huge repercussions for those who may get it wrong. There can be no doubt that he does now understand the seriousness of it all. Perhaps a good comparison would be that of the airline industry? Whenever a pilot has been implicated as being at fault in a serious incident, such as the Kegworth disaster in 1989, British Airways always rush to offer that pilot a job, the First Officer in that tragic crash is now a serving Captain with them – the rationale being that they will never make that mistake again.

Cardinal Mahony may well have made a grievous mistake, one for which he has been disciplined by his successor, but that is no reason to doubt his judgement or ability to vote in the conclave. He may well be better placed than many of the others and have a valuable insight into the motivations and catastrophic failures.

Ultimately whether either of the cardinals attend is a matter for them, their consciences and their fellow peers. It is not for the media or general public to judge and were the Vatican to announce that they were succumbing to public pressure and the cardinals disbarred from voting, this would set a very dangerous precedent, besides which no-one has the authority to prevent their attendance. Only they can recuse themselves. No-one can make judgements about others’ hearts. O’Brien may well be innocent, only time will tell.

In the meantime, anyone wishing the cardinals not to exercise their rights, ought to learn the basics of reverse psychology. The louder the calls for non-participation, the greater the guarantee and likelihood that both Cardinal O’Brien and Cardinal Mahony, will attend, and no-one could blame them for doing so.

10 thoughts on “The Cardinals and reverse psychology

  1. I think its clear that you don’t get it caroline…

    – the allegations and complaint were made to the nuncio before the pope’s resignation. the complaintants have chosen to make them public now NOT the media who are just reporting the nature of the allegations. blaming the media sounds exactly like the gut reactions when the child sexual abuse allegations started to break.

    – the alleged behaviour was NOT among consenting adults although it was directed towards adults above the legal age of sexual consent, the men concerned did not consent towards the alleged sexual overtures which is the problem. nethertheless (if it is true) then it was an abuse of power since the cardinal had a position of responsibility and power under those priests and semanarians. those making the allegations have spoken specifically how they felt powerless to complain at the time.

    – the significance and aetiology of sexual abuse may not have been known fully long ago but it is clear that many bishops broke the law by not reporting allegations and confirmed abuse to the police for proper investiagtion by the police and/or civil authorities eg cardinal law. i have some sympathy for cardinal mahoney who did go on to put in place some of the most stringent guidelines within america (against pressure from the vatican curia / bertone and other american bishops). this can’t be said of more recent allegations such as bishop finn who has been convicted of witholding and destroying evidence but never disciplined by the church.

    – sexual abuse impacts upon all sections and groups within wider society but at least with the bbc, the allegations were eventually investigated properly by the police and external bodies and ultimately those responsible were held accountable and lost their jobs. this has never happened within the church which holds that it is somehow above the law and uses it’s vatican status to resist proper scutiny in these matters. in any other profession eg healthcare or teaching, anyone subject to allegations is immediately suspended pending proper enquiry in which both sides get to give evidence for neutral, this hasn’t happened with o’brien or finn for example.

    – i don’t know if the allegations against o’brien are true and neither can you until they are properly investigated. however i suspect if there is aconspiracy it is by right wing groups within the church. note they are made against cardinal perceived as liberal eg o’brien and mahoney and yet others perceived as conservative eg finn are not recieving such attention.

    1. Andrew, I think you misunderstand. I am questioning why the individuals did not come forward sooner, not the media, although the media is behaving in its usual fashion.

  2. I passed the Cardinal’s house this afternoon. The media were outside, although not many.

    As a Scottish Catholic, this is my take on the situation. Keith Patrick O’Brien’s position as a Cardinal, even as a senior churchman, is somewhat mystifying. I have never seen him as a moral or spiritual leader, or as a particularly convincing defender or promoter of the faith in Scotland. I see far more humility, service and intellect in my parish priest, who only recently and relatively late in life obtained the position of Monsignor.

    His recent opposition of marriage redefinition was never especially convincing. He has, in the past, said a number of scandalous things that I will not repeat here, so his defence of marriage had all the hallmarks of something imposed from above.

    His comments about clerical celibacy were very unhelpful. Whilst it is indeed the case that it is not a doctrinal matter, there are a number of young vocations who face the vow of chastity and this will not make their lives any easier. And of course there are plenty of priests who have lived chaste lives of humble service, who may feel a little hurt by his comments, which seem to belittle their vows. And of course the problems The Church faces in liberal secular countries have nothing to do with heterosexual men unable to marry. Nothing.

    You would think that, in a tiny country like Scotland, with only a small number of Catholics, our very own Cardinal would be a source of elation. But very often, when the Cardinal is mentioned, there is a murmur, and then silence.

    I won’t comment on these rumours.

    1. Although neither of us have much more to go on here than our gut feelings and whom we last spoke to after Mass, for what it’s worth, I’d disagree with your assessment of both the Cardinal’s effectiveness as a leader and his popularity. If that general trust in him has been misplaced, well, so be it: I’m not going to pretend I didn’t have it, even though (as you) I think he was mistaken in some of his views (eg) on celibacy. If he operated from obedience rather than conviction in the case of marriage, that’s fine by me: obedience is a much underrated virtue in the modern Church. (But frankly, given the emotional warmth of some of his interventions, I find that implausible.)

  3. Hmmm don’t hear you taking your comments back now that you’ve been proven wrong caroline. O’brien was guilty of sexual misconduct and it wasn’t a media conspiracy.

  4. Why not in 2003? Perhaps the cardinal is just the collateral, the real target being the Apostolic Nuncio, Antonio Mennini. As you say, it is the nuncio’s emails that that are being leaked to the press and the insinuation in the press now is that there has been a cover up.

    Some folks intensely dislike the nuncio and would like to see him gone ASAP. For example, Robert Mickens, the Rome correspondent for The Tablet, is evidently rattled by the presence of Mennini in London. His comments in an interview with the Herald Scotland demonstrates his paranoia: in one paragraph the O’Brien affair is a “nightmare” for the Vatican; in another, “The allegations could have been leaked by Mennini to burn the English-speaking bloc. There’s a lot of dirty politics around a conclave.” Let’s not forget, when the nuncio arrived in London, it was Mickens who penned a sinister profile for The Tablet, which insinuated that there was something distinctly shady about the new nuncio.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s