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Some cardinals may fear blackmail

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 24, 2015

Almost exactly a year ago, Robert Mickens was suspended from his post as Vatican correspondent for the London Tablet, after he showed his contempt for Pope Benedict XVI with a Facebook comment that he was looking forward to “the Rat’s funeral.” Usually Mickens was more discreet, but that crude comment tells you what you need to know about his perspective.

Having subsequently left The Tablet, Mickens now writes for Global Pulse, a web site that views Catholic affairs from a strongly “progressive” slant. There he has posted another revealing comment, this time on the decision by Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien to renounce his privileges in the aftermath of a homosexual scandal.

In a quick series of one-sentence paragraphs that convey a staccato effect, to capture the reader’s attention, Mickens writes about the question of homosexuality:

For far too long this has been the elephant in the rectory parlor.
I know.
And a lot of other people also know that Keith O'Brien is not the only cardinal that has been sexually active during his priesthood.
And he is not the only one that has been sexually involved with other men.

Might some cardinals perceive that passage as a veiled threat? Mickens indicates clearly that he knows—notice the verb; he doesn’t “suspect”—of homosexual activity by at least one other cardinal. If he knows, then it’s possible he will tell. “And a lot of other people also know,” he adds, helpfully. If many people know, isn’t it just a matter of time before someone “outs” a cardinal?

Maybe not. Back in 2003, at the peak of American media coverage of the sex-abuse scandal, several outlets reported about threats by homosexual activists to identify an American cardinal with a history of homosexual activity. That threat was never carried out. Perhaps reporters realized that the story would not have much impact, because the cardinal’s identity was so commonly known among those who took an interest in the subject.

(Yes, I do know. No, I won’t tell.)

But there is another good reason why that story never broke. Blackmail is effective only as the blackmailer can threaten to divulge damaging information about his victim. Once the information becomes public, the blackmailer loses his control over the victim. In short, the threat is more potent than the execution.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that Robert Mickens is blackmailing cardinals. But he is explicitly charging some cardinals with hypocrisy. Hypocrites are always vulnerable to blackmail, if their secrets are known to others. And remember, “a lot of other people also know” those secrets. So indirectly, Mickens is reminding a few cardinals that sometime between now and October, when the Synod takes up the subject of homosexuality, they might be hearing from old acquaintances who have stories to tell: stories the cardinals don’t want told.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Mar. 25, 2015 1:56 PM ET USA

    The moral character of Church leaders has only been damaged by their behavior. Character is unaffected by innuendo. Maybe some public confessions should be made, accompanied by resignation letters, and avoid the October rush.

  • Posted by: DanS - Mar. 25, 2015 5:55 AM ET USA

    Progressives like Mickens, who claim to know of the homosexual activity of cardinals/bishops, keep their secrets because transparency might offer further proof that the sex abuse scandal was largely a consequence of homosexual activity among the clergy. This is the TRUE "elephant in the rectory parlor," one that Mickens & Co. have scrupulously denied and then ignored because it offends their relativist/egalitarian politics. Their silence serves their cause. The truth refutes it.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Mar. 24, 2015 9:11 PM ET USA

    It is said the truth will set you free. But in this instance it could be very sad. The moral character of church leaders has been seriously damaged by truth and innuendo. I would prefer the Church clean out it's own closet. Isn't it about time?