Mary McAleese’s advice to Cardinal Keith O’Brien is neither sarcasm nor point scoring. It’s counsel coming from a woman who has studied Cannon Law in Rome, says Rob ‘The Loose Cannon’ Buchanan.
Our former president, Mary McAleese has made an excellent suggestion on how to turn a practically distasteful piece of Catholic hypocrisy in to something positive. Whilst delivering a lecture at the Royal Society of Edinburgh she suggested that disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien could benefit other closeted queers who “to pretend to be heterosexual” by sharing his life story.
Cardinal O’Brien was infamously forced to resign as Archbishop of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh in 2013 after he admitted to “inappropriate behaviour” with several priests over a 33-year period. Are we shocked that some senior officials in the Catholic Church are queer? Certainly not. As McAleese eloquently put it, the Vatican’s attitude to queers, both within the church itself and among its followers is “not so much the elephant in the room but a herd of elephants”.
What is remarkable, however, is that this particular closet case was one of the most virulent homophobic mouthpieces of the Catholic Church. In November 2012 Cardinal O’Brien was named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by gay rights charity Stonewall for his highly vocal opposition to marriage equality. Cardinal O’Brien was notable for his inexhaustible appetite for persecuting fellow homosexuals and blocking moves for gay rights. He called same-sex relationships “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing” and even drew links between same-sex marriage and the evils of slavery and child abuse.
I do not subscribe to the lazy generalisations that the worst homophobes are closet cases. Human beings, and more importantly the public faces that human beings present to the world, are far more nuanced. One of the major roots of homophobia is the idea of ‘proper masculinity’. Many men attempt to present themselves to society as ‘acceptable’; i.e. straight; i.e. ‘masculine’. The need to conform to ideas of masculinity and the related need to satisfy the expectations of our parents and our peers is enormous, and it should not be understated. The fingerprint it leaves can last a lifetime, and it often is expressed as opposition to men who do not define themselves in such narrow terms. For a large percentage of juvenile, homophobic, straight males, their anti-gay opinions are less to do with actual homosexuality than with reinforcing their own heterosexuality.
But then we have the abhorrent hypocrites like Cardinal O’Brien. To use a pulpit to spread hypocrisy and raise hatred in order divert suspicion is cowardice on a Biblical scale. Cardinal O’Brien’s brand of homophobia is born from a combination of self-hatred and a desperate, constant need to camouflage the soul.
While McAleese said O’Brien’s hypocrisy was a reflection of the Vatican’s attitude to gay people in general, I wouldn’t entirely agree. Cardinal Keith O’Brien is a highly educated adult who was given every opportunity, socially, financially and intellectually, to make his own decisions. He is a man who must have spent years of his life studying morality and reflecting both on his own natural desires and the clear contradictions it posed to the Catholic dogma, not to mention the poison he regularly spat from the pulpit. He wasn’t even denying himself the carnal pleasures he craved. His homophobia was ruthless and particularly dangerous, because he had so much to lose. He gladly used others as human shield to protect the illusion of his own heterosexuality.
Mary McAleese wasn’t just making a sarcastic suggestion, nor was she looking to score points for the gay lobby. Not only is she a former President, but a respected student of Canon Law in Rome. She was exposing the innate schizophrenic attitude of the Vatican to homosexuality, the same wellspring that covered up child sex abuse, and perpetuates AIDS in the third world due to Bronze Age interpretations on safe sex. There is a huge silent majority of queer Catholic priests whose presence has been as much as admitted to by two Popes and the Vatican in general, when they refer to the ‘gay lobby’.
During his dark nights of reflection only Cardinal O’Brien can speculate what price his soul might pay for the injustices he has inflicted and the bigotry he has preached. However, perhaps he may yet find redemption, if he takes Mary McAleese’s advice. It would be fitting if he turned his own life experiences in to a biography to stop other queers in powerful positions from following the dark path he did.
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