By a Newsnet reporter
“The credibility and moral authority of the Catholic Church in Scotland has been dealt a serious blow” the man who has temporarily replaced Cardinal Keith O’Brien as the leader of Scotland’s Catholics has said this evening.
In a sermon at St Andrew’s Church in Glasgow, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia admitted that the events of the last few days have been “a sad moment for the church in our country”.
The Archbishop said: “The events around Cardinal O’Brien, his resignation, his statement of yesterday, have left us all very sad for everyone involved and for the Church,”
He added: “Many reproaches have been aimed at the Church and at individuals over this matter.
“The most stinging charge which has been levelled against us in this matter is hypocrisy – and for obvious reasons.
“I think there is little doubt that the credibility and moral authority of the Catholic Church in Scotland has been dealt a serious blow and we will need to come to terms with that.”
The scandal took a surprising turn after Cardinal O’Brien, who had initially signalled an intention to legally challenge claims he had behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner towards other men, admitted his sexual conduct had fallen below expected standards.
In a statement, he 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.”
The scandal has grown after four men alleged Cardinal O’Brien had behaved in an inappropriate sexual manner towards them. The allegations centre on the cardinal’s time as spiritual director of St Andrew’s College in Drygrange, in the Scottish Borders.
The journalist who broke the story has said it would be “naïve to assume” Keith O’Brien was the only senior cleric involved in the scandal. Speaking on BBC Scotland, Catherine Deveney said she believed the scandal was not confined to the cardinal.
Some media reports suggest a fifth accuser reportedly approached the Vatican directly in October with accusations.
Shortly before the scandal broke, O’Brien told the BBC that he was open to priests marrying and having children.
“The celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry — Jesus didn’t say that,” he said in the interview last month. “When I was a young boy, the priest didn’t get married and that was it. I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married.”
The story has received world-wide coverage, coinciding with the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the beginning of the process to select a new pontiff.
It has also plunged the Catholic Church in Scotland into crisis, “It’s possibly, in terms of the internal history of the Church, the biggest crisis in the history of Scottish Catholicism since the Reformation,” said Professor Tom Devine.
Gay Rights activists have demanded Cardinal O’Brien apologise for his vociferous attacks on the LGBT community and gay marriage.
He had been a staunch advocate of church teaching against homosexuality, calling same-sex marriage “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. Last year he was named “Bigot of the Year” by Stonewall, the gay rights group.
“O’Brien’s statement falls well short of what we would expect from a spiritual leader,” said the veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. “He has failed to apologise for the hatred and harm he caused the LGBT community.”
It has been announced that the Vatican is to hold an inquiry into the scandal.
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