Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

The O'Brien Twins (and how they grew)

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Oct 21, 2003

Archbishop Keith Patrick O'Brien, who will be re-titled Cardinal O'Brien about five hours from now, publicly denies his public denial of the immutability of doctrine.

Scotland's Senior Roman Catholic tonight strongly denied reports that he had called for the church to debate its teachings on celibacy, contraception and homosexuality just days after being appointed a Cardinal. Speaking on the eve of his elevation to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Keith O'Brien said he had been hurt by the allegations.

He told a press conference in central Rome: "I would strongly object to the wrong reports that have been circulated about me round the world. I did not say anything against the Church's teachings at that mass (at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh three days after he was named a Cardinal)."

Of course O'Brien didn't say anything against Church teachings, he merely suggested they should be changed. It is in extremely poor taste to take seriously what a bishop happens to say in the course of a Mass, as if it expressed his true mind on the matter. One should ask the director of archdiocesan media relations.

But for the three years' difference in their ages, we might imagine Bishop Keith was separated at birth from Bishop Thomas, quondam Lord Spiritual of Phoenix, who earlier this summer sputtered in indignation against folks who assumed that what he'd said under oath was meant literally. Faced with the prospect of prison, Thomas O'Brien cut a deal with the DA that included an admission that he had covered-up incidents of sexual abuse. When the agreement (and confession) was made public, O'Brien blew a gasket and flipped back into full denial mode. Rod Dreher nailed him in his tracks:

Bishop O'Brien, having signed a pretty straightforward statement, is now saying that the statement doesn't say what it pretty clearly says. I don't see any true contrition here. I see a venal creature who put his name to a document to save himself from the possibility of going to jail, and who, now that the danger of jailtime seems to have passed, wishes to disavow any responsibility for having done that.

O'Brien of Phoenix is no longer in a position to harm or help the Church. O'Brien of Edinburgh has at least ten years ahead of him as Cardinal Archbishop. Is it ungenerous of us to fear that, once the red hat has been safely pushed down onto his scalp, he will revert to his old ways and deny the denial of his denial? "I am only too willing," he assured his audience Monday, "to discuss and share my views with my peers and Pope John Paul II." Decent of him, but not exactly a rousing affirmation of orthodoxy.

Equivocation, however, is a two-edged sword. When O'Brien asks "I would hope that Catholics everywhere will join with me in respecting the decisions of the Pope," he may be less than pleased by those who take him at his word -- that is, who imitate his own "tactical deference" by making purely verbal concessions to superiors while working to nullify their efforts. Perhaps the infection is contagious. Asked to comment on the elevation of the Cardinal-to-be, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh responded with a sublime example of caledonian diplomacy:

"I think he will bring to the office the qualities that he has already displayed as Archbishop."

All too likely, milord.

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