A very different post from my last one, but again about a Cardinal. This is intended to be the first of a series, which I may be able to continue tomorrow if we have the forecast snow but don’t lose power.
The Departure of a Cardinal
In response to the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the BBC asks, Is it even possible to live a celibate life? On 22nd February Cardinal O’Brien raised this question, in the context of the celibacy required of Roman Catholic priests, in a BBC interview:
I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own.
It was the very next day, 23rd February, that accusations of “inappropriate acts” by O’Brien, with three priests and a former priest, were made public and reported in The Observer. Two days later O’Brien was forced to resign. He later admitted that
there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.
Now this raises questions of what dirty tricks might have been behind the timing of these allegations, forcing O’Brien out days before he was due to vote in the election for a new Pope, and so soon after he had hinted at what kind of candidate he might prefer. But my point here is not to discuss that, but to consider what the story might have to teach us about a Christian attitude towards sex and sexual orientation.
Is Keith O’Brien Gay?
A more significant question raised by these events concerns Cardinal O’Brien’s sexual orientation, if that is a meaningful concept. Is he in fact sexually attracted to primarily to men? To put it bluntly, is he gay? Has he tried to suppress this, but without complete success? Does he think it would have been easier to suppress this sexual preference if he had been married?
According to Wikipedia, O’Brien was at one time “regarded as “liberal” on the issue of homosexuality”. But by 2012 he was in the public eye as an outspoken opponent of same sex marriage, and the gay rights group Stonewall gave him their “Bigot of the Year” award. If the Cardinal is in fact gay, then I am sure such groups would also consider him for a hypocrite of the year award. But it would need a careful look at what he actually said before deciding if such an award would be fair.
Alternatively, the Cardinal may not actually be gay at all. Maybe he is attracted primarily to women, and could have been genuinely happy as a husband and father. But as a young man confined in an all male seminary and forbidden even to masturbate, he might have been driven by testosterone to inappropriate acts towards the only people who were available, his male students. If so, it would seem that enforced celibacy led him into what his church considers a greater sin than marriage, or masturbation: homosexual activity.
Whatever his natural sexual inclinations, surely the young priest quickly regretted those inappropriate acts. Very likely he came to hate them, and fear them being revealed, and that might well have fuelled a more general negative attitude towards same sex attraction and marriage.
Anyway, unless O’Brien chooses to reveal more himself, it is unlikely that we will ever know his true sexual preferences. And that is probably for the best. I would just say that it is sad that his distinguished career ended in this way, and wish him a long and happy retirement from public life.
Celibacy and Gay Bishops
While the Roman Catholic Church requires celibacy of its priests, with a very few exceptions, the Church of England can be said to require celibacy only of those who are homosexual. …
To be continued.