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Suggestion: increase accuracy, reduce circumlocutions

March 3, 2013

The evolving story of Cdl. Keith O’Brien (Edinburgh) is not served by reporters who do not understand basic Catholic vocabulary nor by prelates who think that platitudes still wash.

Let’s deal with the reporter first.

From the BBC News UK: Ms. Deveney, the Observer reporter who broke the story, said she “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.’”

Deveney apparently does not know what the words “vows” or “celibacy” mean (and she’s not alone). O’Brien is not under “vows”, and he is not accused of violating “celibacy”.

“Celibacy” is the willed choice not to enter marriage. “Celibacy”, a consequence of, among other things, Canon 1087, is something “promised” to the Church, not “vowed” to God per Canon 1191. So, as O’Brien is not accused of attempting marriage and is not under vows, why does Deveney blame the Church for not responding to a question that Deveney herself does not understand?

That said, Deveney’s errors are only technical; O’Brien’s are pastoral and moral.

From the BBC News Scotland: “On Sunday the Church of Scotland issued a statement quoting O’Brien as saying that there had been times ‘that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.’”

So, what is the standard of sexual conduct expected of a priest, archbishop, and cardinal?

Essentially it is the same standard expected of all men; in the context of this story, it excludes any homosexual overtures or acts whatsoever (CCC 2357-2359); this standard has nothing whatsoever to do with whether one is a cleric.

In a Catholic analysis of this kind of situation, what aggravates the offense is that (a) the offender is, in virtue of holy orders, a man ever more closely configured to Christ the High Priest and (b) the “objects” of his advances are themselves especially consecrated to God. Thus the offender in this kind of situation would be committing a sacrilege in his own person and attempting to commit another sacrilege in his victims (CCC 2120).

If that’s what O’Brien means, circumlocutions about behavior that “falls below the standards expected” are quite out of place.

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