“PUNCH drunk” appears to be the reaction of many in the Borders Roman Catholic community after Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s admission at the weekend of sexual misconduct.
So said Galashiels priest Father Basil Clark, when asked by TheSouthern how members of his congregation were feeling this week following Cardinal O’Brien’s revelation that his “sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”
Last week, TheSouthern reported the shock felt by local Roman Catholics over Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, which had followed allegations – the nature of which was undisclosed at that time – from three priests and a former priest of inappropriate behaviour, dating back to the 1980s.
Cardinal O’Brien had already tendered his resignation to the Vatican in November, in anticipation of his 75th birthday this month.
However, Pope Benedict XVI, in one of his last acts before standing down as leader of the global Roman Catholic community, last week ordered the resignation to become effective immediately.
Then came the disclosures of the specific nature of the allegations, including one from the former priest who claimed Cardinal O’Brien had made an inappropriate approach to him in 1980, after night prayers, when he was a seminarian at St Andrew’s College, at Drygrange near Melrose.
In his statement on Sunday, issued through the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal O’Brien said: “In recent days, certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them.
“However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.
“To those I have offended, I apologise and ask forgiveness. To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologise.
“I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland.”
Last week, TheSouthern told of the disbelief and shock felt here in the Borders, with former Galashiels parish priest, Canon John Creanor, a long-time friend of Cardinal O’Brien, who trained with him at Drygrange, expressing his sadness for his friend’s situation.
And last week, Joe Walsh, the Catholic Church representative on Scottish Borders Council’s education committee, also said Catholics in the Borders had been left “totally confused” by developments.
According to Father Basil Clark, parish priest at Our Lady and St Andrew in Galashiels, local Catholics are now reeling this week, following Cardinal O’Brien’s admission.
“Punch drunk is how I would describe people as feeling,” Father Clark admitted.
“Last week, the feeling was one of incredulity and enormous sadness for someone we knew well and was a great friend of Father Creanor.
“This week there is shock and surprise that this latest stuff was there behind it all and we were not aware of it.”
Father Clark said Cardinal O’Brien’s plan following retirement had been to move to the parish where Father Creanor, his friend of 55 years who was parish priest in Galashiels for 16, was now priest of Our Lady of the Sea in North Berwick. Father Clark said there was also great sadness for Father Creanor, who he said had “maybe been hurt most in all this”.
“There is a lot of bewilderment and anxiety around at the moment. Normally it would be an exciting time with the election of a new pope, but I detect a feeling of no enthusiasm for anything from people at the moment,” said Father Clark.
“Hopefully we will see a good election at the Vatican and perhaps a willingness for the Catholic Church to be a bit more humble when it comes to social issues than it has perhaps been in the past.”