Cardinal’s accusers deny being part of vengeful ‘gay cabal’

The Observer, London

Mon, Mar 25, 2013 - Page 6

The four men at the center of the scandal that led to the resignation of Britain’s leading Catholic cleric have dismissed suggestions that they were part of a “gay cabal” seeking “revenge” for his publicly anti-gay stance.

Speaking about events leading to Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s dramatic resignation last month over claims of inappropriate behavior toward a number of priests, the four rejected reports quoting church sources who claimed that the cardinal had been forced to quit by gay priests angry at his rhetoric and hypocrisy about same-sex marriages.

“This isn’t about people being gay. It’s about abuse of power,” said “Father Peter,” who admitted in the Observer report which broke the story that he had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with the cardinal. “The emotional and psychological power Keith O’Brien had over me was incredible. He was utterly manipulative.”

“Lenny,” a former priest who described how he had rebuffed the cardinal’s advances while he was a seminarian, said newspapers were forcing parts of the jigsaw puzzle together that did not fit.

“I was surprised at the suggestion that I was part of a gay cabal. And my partner of 26 years? I’d say she was quite surprised too,” he said.

Last month, the Observer revealed that Lenny and Father Peter, plus two other priests, “John” and “Kenny,” had complained to the papal nuncio about O’Brien. The cardinal resigned the next day, casting a shadow over the election of Pope Francis. The instinct of many, said Father Kenny, had been to demand forgiveness for the cardinal while blaming the complainants.

“How can there be mercy without justice?” he asked.

The story has been complicated by leaked details of a fifth complaint, dating to September last year. The priest involved reached agreement on the matter and took a leave of absence. When the four men made their complaints five months later, they were advised to stay silent and were informed that O’Brien would retire to Rome. Fearing another cover-up, they went public, prompting the cardinal’s resignation and apology in which he admitted: “There have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me.”

Father Peter, who became suicidal as he struggled with guilt and depression, says the story has been consistently misunderstood. The complaints were neither political, nor timed to affect the papal conclave.

“Our complaints were made before the pope [Benedict XVI] resigned. In fact, I am now more convinced than ever they played a part in his resignation, but this is not something that all happened last month. I sought help for this a decade ago. I was on strong antidepressants and I couldn’t cope any more,” he said.