Pope Francis has decided that Cardinal O’Brien will leave Scotland for several months to atone for his sexual wrongdoing through prayer, penance and spiritual renewal
Pope Francis has agreed that Cardinal Keith O’Brien should leave Scotland “for several months” for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer and penance, the Vatican announced on May 15.
The news, which had been rumored for some weeks in the UK, was confirmed by the Vatican press office in a brief statement issued in both English and Italian, in Rome.
“Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, Archbishop Emeritus of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, will be leaving Scotland, in the coming days, for several months for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer and penance”, the Vatican stated.
It is recognized in Rome and in the UK that the cardinal, by his sexual misconduct, had done immense damage to the Catholic Church in Scotland and wider afield, and Church sources say it is proper that he should do a period of prayer and penance to atone for this, and to rebuild his own life as a Christian.
The Vatican made clear that Cardinal O’Brien is doing all this “in agreement with the Holy Father”. In other words, Pope Francis has been directly involved in this decision.
Since the Cardinal has openly admitted his wrongdoing, there was no need for a formal judicial process. The penalty he is undergoing is in accordance with Church discipline and aims “to repair the scandal, restore justice, reform the offender” (Code of Canon Law, n.1341).
The Vatican did not reveal where the cardinal is going to do his prayer, penance and spiritual renewal, nor did it specify for how long. The word ‘several” in English usually means ‘more than three’, in other words, he will be on retreat, doing penance, for more than three months.
On the other hand, it is also clear from the Vatican statement that his absence from Scotland will be temporary, not permanent. He is not being sent into permanent exile as some media outlets have suggested.
The Vatican said he is doing this “for the same reasons he decided not to participate in the last Conclave.” Those reasons related to the allegations of sexual misconduct that were made against him in late February which attracted international media attention. The cardinal announced, on February 25 – the day his resignation took effect- that he would not take part in the conclave so as not to have media attention focused on him.
The previous day, February 24, The Observer, a British Sunday paper, published allegations by three priests and a former priest from the archdiocese of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh, accusing the cardinal of engaging in “inappropriate behavior” with them in the 1980s.
O’Brien at first contested these allegations of sexual misconduct with adults, but in a statement on March 3, issued by the Scottish Catholic Media Office, he openly acknowledged that “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.” He apologized to those he had offended and asked their “forgiveness”; he also “apologized” to the Catholic Church and people of Scotland.
“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”, the cardinal stated then.
In its May 15 statement, the Vatican said that “any decision regarding future arrangements for His Eminence shall be agreed with the Holy See.” This suggests that the Vatican is keeping its options open regarding his future.