Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the United Kingdom’s most vocal faith opponent of marriage equality, admitted to sexual misconduct. He resigned from his post last week, amid allegations of sexual misconduct with a seminary student and three young priests over 30 years ago. He has now announced that he will no longer contest the allegations.
According to The Guardian, Cardinal O’Brien issued a brief and vaguely-worded statement, including these words, "there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."
The timing for this admission makes for a juicy story. The cardinals (other than Cardinal O’Brien) are gathering in Rome in a conclave to elect the new pope. Marriage equality is on the verge of becoming the law in the UK. And here in the US, the Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments challenging California’s Prop 8 and the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.”
In all these instances, the Roman Catholic hierarchy has been a loud opponent to marriage equality. Admissions like that of Cardinal O’Brien, or even those of Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who was removed from all duties after documentation revealed he actively covered up sexual misconduct by priests in his diocese, remove any credibility of the Roman Catholic hierarchy on matters of marriage and human sexuality.
Words like “hypocrisy” could be rightly used. Anger that an institution that wields so much authority in the world has such internal corruption can simmer over.
It is times like these that call into sharp relief what we’ve known all along: that the church is not defined by its hierarchy, but is constituted by the character of its congregants, the fiber of its faithful. The Roman Catholic hierarchy is not the Catholic Church.
The Church consists of people working and living out their faith in their day to day lives. Their words and deeds of affirmation and support are more obedient to the Catholic faith than any of the proclamations that come from the hierarchy. And these people are on the side of LGBT equality. Accordnig to the Public Religion Research Institute, 74% of Catholics support LGBT equality, including marriage equality.
This scandal brings increased burden to the Catholics who are bold people of faith by further tarnishing their tradition. To reporters, bloggers, and commenters who might question why someone stays with such a tradition, I would say that faith is deep and personal, and one does not simply walk away from it. Even when we do, it still lingers as a part of our identity. One does not simply cease to be a Catholic (or evangelical, or Muslim, or Buddhist et al.) just because one stops attending worship.
Cardinal O’Brien’s scandal is further evidence of a broken institution that needs to heal itself. Instead of scapegoating and demonizing LGBT people, the hierarchy needs to look deep within to ask itself what the core and essence of the Roman Catholic is.
Remember, when so many of us gather for the United for Marriage rally in Washington, DC, and around the country March 26-27, we will have Catholic brothers and sisters in our midst. When you see one, offer a word of thanks and one of support. We all have the power to change our culture in profound ways, and we thank those who have spoken out for equality.
To our Catholic friends who are good, courageous people: we are sorry that men like Keith O'Brien are your public witnesses. We know you are better than this, and we know you're tired of your church being hijacked by those who scapegoat LGBT people for their own internal issues. Please continue raising your voices for equality, justice, and love.
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