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Roman Catholicism

Part 2: 2013-FEB/MAR: Sex-related scandals
at conclave to select successor to Benedict XVI.

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This essay is a continuation from the previous essay

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The dark clouds of sex-related scandals gathering around the 2013-MAR conclave:

The conclave was expected to consist of 118 cardinals. This would include all of the current cardinals in the Catholic Church who were under the age of 80. Of these 67 -- a majority -- have been appointed by Benedict and selected for their conservative views. However, the full set of cardinals may not be present. As of 2013-MAR-01, 115 were expected to take part.

Lizzie Davies of the Guardian newspaper commented:

"... the most unexpected and unpredictable conclave in centuries looks increasingly likely to be overshadowed -– just as much of Benedict's papacy was -– by scandal.

The clerical sex abuse scandals that dominated Benedict's eight years as pope have left several prelates due to take part in conclave facing questions over how they handled the affairs." 1

The cardinals involved include:

  • Cardinal Keith O'Brien was the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh. His resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI on FEB-18, one week after the pope's. 2 It was in response to claims of "inappropriate acts" that had allegedly occurred over the past 33 years. The acts allegedly involving three currently active priests and one former priest. The four disclosed their charges to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican's ambassador to Britain. The priests demanded O'Brien's immediate resignation. A spokesman for the cardinal said that the claims have been contested. 2

    Cardinal O'Brien was the most senior Catholic cleric in Scotland. As a result, there will be no representative from Britain who will vote in the conclave. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the archbishop emeritus of Westminster, will attend the pre-conclave meetings but will not be present or vote in the election of the new pope because he is 80 years of age.

    Cardinal O'Brien said:

    "I have valued the opportunity of serving the people of Scotland and overseas in various ways since becoming a priest. Looking back over my years of ministry, for any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologies to all whom I have offended.

    I thank Pope Benedict XVI for his kindness and courtesy to me and on my own behalf and on behalf of the people of Scotland, I wish him a long and happy retirement.

    I also ask God's blessing on my brother cardinals who will soon gather in Rome to elect his successor. I will not join them for this conclave in person. I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me, but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor. However, I will pray with them and for them that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they will make the correct choice for the future good of the church.

    May God, who has blessed me so often in my ministry, continue to bless and help me in the years which remain for me on Earth and may he shower his blessings on all the peoples of Scotland especially those I was privileged to serve in a special way in the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh." 3

According to the Guardian:

"O'Brien has been an outspoken critic of gay rights, denouncing plans for the legalization of same-sex marriage as 'harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well being of those involved.' He was named bigot of the year in 2012 by the gay rights group Stonewall because of his central role in opposing gay marriage laws in Scotland." 3

Vatican historian Ambrogio Piazzoni, the vice prefect of the Vatican library, said that this is the first time that a cardinal stayed away from a conclave because of personal scandal. 4

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  • Cardinal Justin Rigali is the former archbishop of Philadelphia, PA. Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter called for Cardinal Rigali's resignation in 2001-FEB when allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests rocked the archdiocese. 5 He retired in mid-2011.

  • Cardinal Timothy Dolan is the Archbishop of New York and the President of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference. The New York Times reported in 2012-MAY that he:

    "... authorized payments of as much as $20,000 [each] to sexually abusive priests as an incentive for them to agree to dismissal from the priesthood when he was the archbishop of Milwaukee.

    Questioned at the time about the news that one particularly notorious pedophile cleric had been given a 'payoff' to leave the priesthood, Cardinal Dolan, then the archbishop, responded that such an inference was 'false, preposterous and unjust.'

    But a document unearthed during bankruptcy proceedings for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and made public by victims’ advocates reveals that the archdiocese did make such payments to multiple accused priests to encourage them to seek dismissal, thereby allowing the church to remove them from the payroll." 6

  • Cardinal Sen Brady, the primate of All Ireland, has received calls to resign over his failure in the 1970's to take action against a serial abuser of minors. 5

  • Cardinal Roger Mahony is Archbishop emeritus of Los Angeles, CA. During 2013-JAN, a court ordered the release of church files involving over 120 priests accused of sexual abuse of minors. According to the Guardian, the files:

    "showed that Mahony, along with other officials, had protected the clerics." 5

    He was reprimanded by the current archbishop of Los Angeles. His public and administrative duties have been terminated. Thousands of U.S. Catholics have signed a petition asking that he not attend the conclave. However, he has made it clear that he will be attending. A Vatican historian said on FEB-20 that there is no precedent in the history of the Church for a cardinal to not attend a conclave because of a personal scandal. Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press wrote:

    "... the growing grass-roots campaign is an indication that ordinary Catholics are increasingly demanding a greater say in who is fit to elect their pope, and casts an ugly shadow over the upcoming papal election."

    Conclaves always bring out the worst in cardinals' dirty laundry, with past sins and transgressions aired anew in the slow news days preceding the vote. This time is no different " except that the revelations of Mahony's sins are so fresh and come on the tails of a recent round of sex abuse scandals in the U.S. and Europe.

    This week, the influential Italian Catholic affairs magazine Famiglia Cristiana asked its readers if the Los Angeles-based Cardinal Mahony should participate in the conclave given the revelations. 'Your opinion: Mahony in the conclave: Yes or No?' reads the online survey of one of Italy's most-read magazines.

    The overwhelming majority among more than 350 replies has been a clear-cut 'No'." 7

    Catholics United collected 5,600 signatures by FEB-20, asking Mahony to recuse himself. Andrea León-Grossman, a Los Angeles member of Catholics United, said:

    "It's the right thing to do. In the interests of the children who were raped in his diocese, he needs to keep out of the public eye. He has already been stripped of his ministry. If he's truly sorry for what has happened, he would show some humility and opt to stay home." 7

Winfield continues:

"Italian newspapers have been filled with profiles of the cardinals whose presence at the conclave would be an 'embarrassment' to the Vatican."

They include Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, Cardinal Sean Brady of Ireland, Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium and Cardinal Rigali of the U.S. 7

Some of the above cardinals are experiencing increasing pressure to not take part in the conclave. However, since the primary responsibility of all cardinals is to attend conclaves, they are under other pressures to be there.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Lizzie Davies, "Difficult path to papal conclave as Rome prepares for new era," The Guardian, 2013-FEB-23, at:
  2. Catherine Deveney, "UK's top cardinal accused of 'inappropriate acts' by priests," The Guardian, 2013-FEB-23, at:
  3. Severin Carrell & Sam Jones, "Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigns amid claims of inappropriate behaviour," The Guardian, 2013-FEB-25, at:
  4. Gregory Katz & Nichole Winfield, "Keith O'Brien Resigns: Top UK Cardinal Will Skip Papal Conclave Over Allegations Of Misconduct," Huffington Post, 2013-FEB-25, at:
  5. Michael Sean Winters, "Cardinal Rigali Must Go," National Catholic Reporter, 2011-FEB-17, at:
  6. Jason Horowitz, "Pope Benedict XVI resigns Thursday and will be called ‘emeritus Pope’, Washington Post, " 2013-FEB-26, at:
  7. Nicole Winfield, "Conclave brings out cardinals' dirty laundry," Associated Press, 2013-FEB-20, at:

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Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2013-FEB-27
Latest update: 2013-MAR-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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