Cardinal O'Brien complainant 'warned' of risk of damage to Church

Media caption,
Journalist Catherine Deveney: "Which of the stories would the Church prefer not to come out? Is it the stories about the abuse of children in their homes? Is it the story about the priest who had a family?"

One of four men who made claims against Cardinal Keith O'Brien in the days before he resigned says he went public despite being warned he could damage the Catholic Church's reputation.

The ex-priest told the Observer he was disappointed by the "cold disapproval" he faced for "daring to break ranks".

He said he had feared the matter was in danger of being swept under the carpet.

The men accused the Scottish Catholic Church leader of improper behaviour in the 1980s - allegations he contests.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien was Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric when he resigned last Monday as the Archbishop of St Andrew's and Edinburgh and said he would not take part in the election for a successor to Pope Benedict.

The cardinal had been due to retire later this month when he turned 75.

The former priest and three current priests from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh complained to the Pope's representative to Britain, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, in early February about what they alleged had been inappropriate behaviour towards them three decades ago.

In an interview with the Observer newspaper, the former priest accused the church of a lack of integrity in the way it responded to the allegations.

'Crush me'

He said the four complainants had been asked to sign sworn statements to Archbishop Mennini.

But he said they had been warned that if their allegations were made public they would cause "immense further damage to the Church".

"For me, this is about integrity," he told the newspaper.

"There have been two sensations for me this week. One is feeling the hot breath of the media on the back of my neck and the other is sensing the cold disapproval of the church hierarchy for daring to break ranks. I feel like if they could crush me, they would."

He said: "I thought it was best to let the men and women who put their hard-earned cash in the plate every Sunday know what has been happening. If you pay into something you have a right, but also a duty, to know what you are paying for."

He added: "This isn't about trying to own the moral high ground. I feel compassion for O'Brien, more compassion than the Church is showing me, but the truth has to be available - even when that truth is hard to swallow."

'Vow of celibacy'

Catherine Deveney, the journalist who first broke the story in last week's Observer, told BBC Scotland's Sunday Politics programme the former priest had been under "intense pressure" from the media and others who wanted to "out" him.

She added: "It is also worth noting that these people are not anonymous in that they have given signed and sworn statements to the Papal Nuncio exactly as they were asked to do by the church.

"It was only the church's reaction to those complaints that made them fear they would not be dealt with properly, and it was at that point that they chose to go public."

Ms Deveney said she was "very disappointed" by the way the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland had handled the claims.

She said she had emailed "very specific allegations from the four individuals concerned" to the church's director of communications, Peter Kearney, the day before her original story was published.

She had also asked the direct question: "Is it true that the cardinal has broken his vow of celibacy?"

"You could not get a more specific allegation than that, and for the church to say that they didn't know what he was being accused of was simply not true," she said.

In a further article in the Observer on Sunday, Ms Deveney refuted "ridiculous accusations" that the men timed their allegations - which date back to the 1980s - to spoil the cardinal's retirement and prevent him attending the conclave to elect a new Pope.

Timing can be as straightforward as "realising you are not the only one", she wrote, adding one of the men told her the extent of the cardinal's behaviour had "only became clear a few weeks ago".

The church has so far made no comment on Ms Deveney's latest allegations.

Last week, the Observer reported that the former priest had claimed Cardinal O'Brien made an inappropriate approach to him in 1980, after night prayers, when he was a seminarian at St Andrew's College, Drygrange.

A second statement from another complainant said he had been living in a parish when he was visited by Cardinal O'Brien, and inappropriate contact had taken place between them.

A third complainant alleged he faced what he described as "unwanted behaviour" by the cardinal in the 1980s after some late-night drinking.

The fourth complainant claimed the cardinal used night prayers as an excuse for inappropriate contact, the newspaper said.

The cardinal is said to contest the allegations and is seeking legal advice.

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