Disgraced O’Brien to face legal proceedings over alleged groping of a teenage seminarian

Disgraced O’Brien to face legal proceedings over alleged groping of a teenage seminarian

SCOTTISH newspaper, The Herald, reveals in an exclusive report today that a former trainee priest, who claims he was abused by the disgraced Keith O’Brien, is to bring legal proceedings against the cardinal and the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, whose homophobia earned him a 'Bigot of the Year' award

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, whose homophobia earned him a ‘Bigot of the Year’ award

The former seminarian, who had known the cardinal since childhood, is the first to speak publicly of his experience. He said he had only broken a 30-year silence after recent revelations about the former archbishop’s sexual behaviour made it clear his ordeal was not an isolated episode.

The allegation relates to a period in the 1980s when he attended a senior seminary college, following four years at Aberdeen’s Blairs College for trainee priests.

He left the priesthood several months after Cardinal O’Brien, who was then rector of Blairs, allegedly groped and kissed him during a visit to the unnamed seminary.

Now in his 50s, the victim who asked to remain anonymous, said says he is prepared to face “Keith” in a courtroom in the hope his actions will encourage others, who may have been reluctant to complain about similar experiences, to come forward.

His solicitor has described his client as “totally credible” and his claims as “consistent and measured”.

O’Brien, notorious for his anti-gay rants,  has gone to ground following claims nearly three weeks ago that he “behaved inappropriately” towards three priests and a former priest in the 1980s.

Following the revelations, he was stood down from his post as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and subsequently admitted his sexual conduct had:

Fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.

This brings to mind one of my favourite Christopher Hitchens’ quotes:

Whenever I hear some bigmouth in Washington or the Christian heartland banging on about the evils of sodomy or whatever, I mentally enter his name in my notebook and contentedly set my watch. Sooner rather than later, he will be discovered down on his weary and well-worn knees in some dreary motel or latrine, with an expired Visa card, having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed upon by some Apache transvestite.

The victim claims it was only in the aftermath of the revelations that he eventually told a lifelong friend, another former trainee priest, of his experience as a 19-year-old.

He described the unfolding events of the past fortnight as “like forcing myself to watch a movie I don’t want to see” and said it had been “near-impossible to appear normal” since the full magnitude of events emerged.

Until the revelations came to light he had put the cardinal’s alleged conduct down to a one-off act of weakness, but now believes it was premeditated and part of a pattern of behaviour.

The man, who later married and had children and a successful career away from the Church, said Cardinal O’Brien invited him to his room in the 1980s after dinner in the seminary, adding:

We’d some sort of drink in his room, beer or wine. He was just chatting away about the past, the future and so on. He had been talking about himself, how he was going places, his career had been mapped out and that it was for God to decide. I can’t remember the exact phrase he used but he told me he would always look after me and how good a priest I’d be. Until this stage I’d thought how excellent it would be to be a priest in his diocese.

But that’s when it happened … after a few minutes he released me and I was able to make my excuses and go. As an adult looking back I ask myself how it could have happened. Neither of us was drunk.

His solicitor, Cameron Fyfe, said:

I have been instructed to make a claim for compensation against Keith O’Brien and his Archdiocese on the basis of abuse my client suffered at his hands in the 1980s while at seminary. I am currently preparing the case but hope in all the current circumstances that the Church may take a reasonable stand and consider settlement of the claim without the expense and trauma of a court action.

He added:

I have acted for over 1,000 clients who have been victims of sexual and physical abuse. Over the years you learn to assess credibility. I have found this client to be totally credible. The information he has passed to me is consistent and measured. If the case does eventually require to go to court I think he would be an excellent witness.

The former seminarian is to undergo psychological assessment in the coming weeks, which could corroborate his claims, with Mr Fyfe suing for both the trauma and loss of career.

Similar claims in the past have led to payouts in excess of £50,000 in cases involving clerical and other abusers.

The alleged victim added:

When I spoke to the lawyer I broke down. I haven’t been sleeping, I’ve been physically sick. If I didn’t have any children I’d have no problem with anonymity. But at this stage I believe I would be prepared to face Keith in a court room. I know the truth. I’d still refer to him as Keith and ask him as a religious man under oath is he prepared to deny what I’m saying is the truth.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said:

The Church is disturbed to hear of these allegations. Any complaints raised will be taken very seriously.

39 responses to “Disgraced O’Brien to face legal proceedings over alleged groping of a teenage seminarian”

  1. Ivan says:

    “…..having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed upon by some Apache transvestite.”

    Wigwam bam thank you ma’am.

  2. JamesB says:

    “Fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”

    I’m afraid you’ve lived up to them, cardinal

  3. Broga says:

    I suppose O’Brien, having gone to ground, thought that he and his past would be conveniently forgotten. The irony is that his behaviour, as far as we know, has not been as bad as that of many other priests still working. Or what about the behaviour of some of those Cardinals in the recent charade in Rome?

  4. Lazy Susan says:

    A grope and a kiss, by themselves, are not a big deal. But combined with the abuse of power, the fact that the recipient appears to have been taken by surprise and did not welcome the advances (over a period of several minutes), the hypocrisy of O’Brien’s public anti-gay stance vs is private anything goes, all while claiming to be the representative of some source of absolute morality (whatever that might be) adds up to quite a lot.

    Gone to ground. Anyone know where? Do you suppose he might be reading this? (Hi, Keith!)

  5. Angela_K says:

    “The Church is disturbed to hear of these allegations. Any complaints raised will be taken very seriously”.

    Which means we’ll blame the victim and destroy any evidence. I bet the paper shredders have been recently working over-time in the Vatican.

  6. JohnMWhite says:

    What do you think all the black smoke was, Angela_K?

    Innocent until proven guilty and so on but these allegations continuing to mount is no surprise. Keith is just another perpetual bully beaten into shape by the iron fist of Catholic authoritarianism. As long as you have sufficient power, you can do what you like to those under you, and should never fear being rebuked or held to account for your actions. After all, they’re under you for a reason. Now that the worm has turned and he no longer enjoys the spiritual shield of being a bigwig in the church, he is shocked to discover people standing up to him and, like all bullies in the Catholic hierarchy, withers in the light of scrutiny and cowardly dodges responsibility.

  7. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    @barriejohn: So the rabbi isn’t only a peadphile supporter, (just like all those rcc priests), he’s also a racist. What a nice man.

  8. barriejohn says:

    If a Jew is accused of paedophilia then he must be innocent. On the other hand, black people must necessarily be violently anti-semitic!

  9. Broga says:

    @JohnMWhite: Good summary. While they have the power, whether they are generals, Cardinals, government ministers etc, they mistake the trappings of power for what they are themselves. Once that is gone they are shocked to discover just how ordinary they are. Vice-Admiral James Bond Stockdale gave a brilliant summary of this in his Hoover Institution Essay (1993) based on a lecture he gave in Lonon. He was talking about “station in life” and being shot down while a fighter pilot while a leader of a hundred plus pilots and a thousand men. From his high status and power he goes, in minutes, to this:

    “I’ll be a criminal. But that’s not the half of the revelation that is the realisation of your own fragility – that you can be reduced to a helpless, sobbing wreck – unable to control even your bowels – in a matter of minutes…… Station in life then, can be changed from that of a dignified and competent gentleman of culture to that of a panic-stricken, sobbing, self-loathing wreck in a matter of minutes. To live under the false pretense that you will forever have control of your station in life is to ride for a fall.”

    Stockdale, a man loaded with gallantry medals, was severely tortured fifteen times, put in leg irons for two years, and put in solitary confinement for four years. His Hoover Essay is called, “Courage under Fire: Testing Epictetus’s Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behaviour”. The title has a certain irony. O’Brien could benefit from reading the Essay.

  10. Angela_K says:

    @JohnMWhite: “What do you think all the black smoke was?”

    I thought they were burning all the Gay porn.

  11. Chris says:

    According to the Cranmer blog, the allegations are serious not just because he is a cardinal, but because they are concerned with historic allegations of ‘paedophilia’: the Cardinal is accused of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ against young seminarians who were, at the time, 18-20 years old. Male homosexuality was not decriminalised in Scotland until 1980 (the 1967 Sexual Offences Act applied to England and Wales only). The age of homosexual consent in Scotland after 1980 was 21. So Keith O’Brien is alleged not only to have flouted Roman Catholic Canon Law but transgressed the law of the land as it stood at the time.

  12. Marky Mark says:

    (He left the priesthood several months after Cardinal O’Brien, who was then rector of Blairs, allegedly groped and kissed him during a visit to the unnamed seminary.)
    …And they wonder why they can’t recruit straight priests anymore.

  13. AgentCormac says:

    Frankie say: I’ll get away with it for as long as I can.

    Just read the following BBC News article relating to Frankie’s alleged involvement in the 1976 abduction of two Jesuits by Argentina’s military government. As the priests’ provincial superior at the time, Frankie is accused of having failed to shield them from arrest, not to mention the five months of imprisonment and torture they endured. One of the priests (now deceased) reportedly accused Frankie of ‘effectively delivering them to the death squads by declining to publicly endorse their work’.

    Team Frankie have this to say on the matter: “There has never been a credible, concrete accusation against him.”

    WTF? Hardly an unequivocal ‘He did absolutely everything he possibly could to protect those in his charge and can prove it’.

    It would seem there’s no black smoke without fire!

  14. JohnMWhite says:

    I found that quasi-denial rather weird as well. I wonder if perhaps the translation went a bit wonky, but as read, he certainly seems to be saying “you can’t prove it” rather than “it didn’t happen”.

    Not surprised to see his reign begin under a black cloud. I have to admit I’m impressed with talk of him riding the bus to work, refusing to live in the Bishop’s palace and generally taking Jesus’ remarks about wealth semi-seriously, but he seems to be cut from similar cloth as his predecessor when it comes to dodging responsibility. He’s another of those “hate the sin not the sinner” not-a-bigots™, preaching respect for gay people until they try to exist on equal footing and then declaring them a menace to society. He has a ten year old’s view of abortion and euthanasia but has been taken seriously for so long he thinks his petulance carries philosophical weight. It just isn’t going to help the church one bit to have yet another leader who lacks courage and insists on maintaining the status quo.

  15. Broga says:

    If these are the revelations after a few days the rest of his papacy is going to be a long haul. He does seem to be a gutless, useless, self serving berk.

  16. AgentCormac says:

    All prerequisites of becoming pope, I would suggest, Broga!

  17. Broga says:

    @AgentCormac: I was struck by his failure to help those two tortured priests. His failure to encourage their work with the poor – and that is of a different order of poverty to what is known in the UK. His lack of response to the families of the “disappeared” i.e. murdered and probably tortured first. His smiling photo with the head of the abominable Junta. All this becomes known in a few days. And still the media, with the BBC well to the fore, other religious leaders and politicians rush to venerate him.

    He shows every sign of being a man without moral fibre, no principles and adept at using his religion to cozy up to those in power. Is it not shameful that so few have confronted his appalling past and his flawed character?

  18. AgentCormac says:


    A simple online search, and yet more appalling and unanswered accusations tumble forth. Including this damning inclusion from a Guardian article entitled ‘The sins of the Argentinian church’ published back on Tuesday 4 January, 2011:

    “What one did not hear from any senior member of the Argentinian hierarchy was any expression of regret for the church’s collaboration and in these crimes. The extent of the church’s complicity in the dark deeds was excellently set out by Horacio Verbitsky, one of Argentina’s most notable journalists, in his book El Silencio (Silence). He recounts how the Argentinian navy hid from a visiting delegation of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission the dictatorship’s political prisoners on an island linked to senior clerics.”

  19. Robster says:

    Are these clerics paid by the hour or by the number?

  20. AgentCormac says:

    Bloody hell, barriejohn – they are totally insane!

    (Cardinal Wilfrid Napier ) said he knew at least two priests, who became paedophiles after themselves being abused as children.

    “Now don’t tell me that those people are criminally responsible like somebody who chooses to do something like that. I don’t think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished. He was himself damaged.”

  21. barriejohn says:

    Paedophilia is a mental disorder, but that doesn’t mean that sufferers are not responsible for their actions. If it were, as he implies, then the only course of action would be to lock them up. He has no idea what he is talking about – but then he’s a religiot!

  22. Lazy Susan says:

    I never thought I’d hear the RC arguing against free will.

  23. Broga says:

    And the response of the RC Church is to move these priests around, to allow them to offend time after time. I heard a man who was abused, when he was nine, by a priest interviewed and he was furious. He said the first move of the RC Church is to protect and excuse the Institution. No concern for the victims. I heard part of the Steven Nolan interview last night. One thing that did iritate me was the way Nolan referred to the Cardinal as “Sir.” Thank you sir, three bags full sir. He never refers to anyone else as sir. And this is part of the problem: the respect we give to these scoundrels when contemptuous challenge is what is needed.

  24. JohnMWhite says:

    “Now don’t tell me that those people are criminally responsible like somebody who chooses to do something like that.”

    So apparently some people do choose to do something like that, just not priests. Cardinal Wilfred is simply indulging in the church’s favourite pastime: special pleading. He doesn’t believe for a second that anybody should be given a break for the actions they commit because of their background. Is he going up north to tell Uganda to stop the kill-the-gays bill? Is he emphasising compassion for women raped or abused and seeking abortion? Is he saying that thieves from poor backgrounds are a victim of circumstance? Is he arguing that atheists be given a break for their misgivings and supposed hostility if they were mistreated during religious education? Is he even suggesting that priests who struggle with celibacy because of that whole being human thing should be handled with love? Curiously, it is only predatory priests who he thinks should be treated with (pardon the awful pun) kid gloves.

    The saddest part is he has a point, he’s just making it out of selfish interest and a complete lack of giving a shit about children. Paedophilia is a psychological disorder, one that is so steeped in social stigma it can make it most daunting or even impossible for the sufferer to get help. Then it festers and rots and eventually there’s a chance they’ll break and become a threat to young people around them. Once they act, the damage is done, and locking them up for the good of society (and hopefully still treating them) is a Pyrrhic victory. But to deliberately shield those who act on their paedophilia from prosecution, and to move them around so that they may cause harm again and again against unsuspecting children, is to display a criminal and callous disregard for these victims and potential victims. Yes, Cardinal, people like you chose to do that.

    Not that the fallout for the victims moves him at all. As ever, a member of the church hierarchy sees children as mere objects. Such an attitude is dangerous and intolerable.

  25. Marky Mark says:

    excellent post Mr White

  26. Linda says:

    A 19 year old is an adult, not a child. An adult ought to be able to handle an unwanted sexual advance, ought to be able to decline it, and really ought to be able to do all that without causing unnecessary offence either. Obviously a lot depends on the precise details of what happened, and I don’t know those details, but so far as I can tell from what has appeared in print so far this doesn’t seem like something that should go to court.

    I am not a supporter of Cardinal O’Brien. I think he acted unwisely, and perhaps unethically, in this situation. (It’s not the gay aspect that concerns me. It’s the fact that he was in a position of authority in respect to this seminarian.) But, so far as I can judge from the evidence that I have seen, the seminarian seems to be over-reacting.

    Is everyone who makes a pass that proves to be unwelcome going to finish up in court now? What sort of a society have we become?

  27. AgentCormac says:

    Oh, dear – it seems O’Brien’s disgrace still hasn’t hit rock bottom as he is now also accused of attempting, while a cardinal, to grope a man at a drinks party to celebrate him becoming a “prince of the Church” in October 2003. An event that was attended by a raft of bishops and dignitaries.

  28. JohnMWhite says:

    @Linda – nobody said a 19 year old was a child, but a 19 year old student fresh out of high school is vastly different to a man in his 30s and beyond. A young person is much more vulnerable. This isn’t about two people in an elevator and one making a pass and the other not knowing how to say “no thanks”, this is about a man in a powerful position trying to get into a vulnerable underling’s pants. If your boss makes a pass at you it is not an over-reaction to consider it sexual harassment, regardless of how polite he is about it, because it is as you already admitted an abuse of power. You know it was wrong, you’re just clutching at straws to blame the victim, a typical Catholic tactic.

  29. Matt Westwood says:

    @JMW: Sorry, but Linda does have a point. Despicable though it is to abuse power to get sexual favours, it’s beginning to worry me a little how easy it is to be convicted for approaching another person in the workplace with a view towards starting a relationship. When I consider the number of happily married couples at places I’ve worked which have met at that very workplace, it makes me wonder whether that would have happened now – so many people are delighted to scream “harrassment” that one wonders whether anybody ever dares to initiate a relationship any more.

  30. JohnMWhite says:

    @Matt Westwood – Your point and Linda’s point are two different things. Though I’m not sure where you get the idea that there are droves of people being ‘convicted’ of asking out a colleague at work.

  31. AgentCormac says:

    I have to agree with JMW on this. I don’t now what planet Linda lives on, but there are clearly many 19 year olds in this world who are utterly incapable (be it emotionally or physically) of rejecting the advances of a powerful predator, and the crime here isn’t so much to do with the level of harassment as the abuse of power and responsibility behind it. Not to mention the sheer hypocrisy of the old bastard!

    O’Brien was a man used to getting his own way. And he wasn’t just a ‘boss’ in the normal, everyday way of things – not some kind of line manager or team leader. He had real authority over his charges because it had been vested in him by (supposedly) the most powerful being in the universe. Not only that, he worked for a totalitarian organisation with a finely tuned sense of self-protection. As one of the victim’s claimed, ‘It (the RCC) tends to cover up and protect the system at all costs.’

    Is the seminarian, as Linda claims, ‘over reacting’? Only if you think that intimidation, deception and a fundamental betrayal of faith are acceptable from someone who claims to have all the answers.

  32. Lazy Susan says:

    Linda – I think your general point has been addressed, but I’d like to take up one thing you said, viz “Is everyone who makes a pass that proves to be unwelcome going to finish up in court now? What sort of a society have we become?”

    It sometimes does seem that “unwelcome advances” are becoming grounds for legal action or at least social censure. I think it would be only fair if “unwelcome rejections” were likewise to be grounds for action or censure. Somehow, I don’t think this will happen.

  33. AgentCormac says:

    O’Brien’s fall from grace just keeps on plummeting into new, uncharted depths of hypocrisy!