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Although his resignation was generally expected to take place some time in the coming months, it was still a surprise that the Holy See today accepted the resignation of Keith Cardinal O’Brien, the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh. It did so in accordance with canon 401 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law, which covers the obligation of a diocesan bishop to offer his resignation as he reaches the age of 75. Cardinal O’Brien will reach that age next month and, according to his official statement, his resignation had been accepted ”nunc pro tunc” back in November.
But is that the whole story? Of course, we must treat carefully here, because it is all speculation, but that speculation arises from some recent developments surrounding Cardinal O’Brien. He has recently been accused of sexual misconduct by three priests and one former priest from his diocese, stretching back over the past 30 years. Cardinal O’Brien strongly denies these accusations, but they unavoidable raised questions about what, if anything, really happened. And today, his unexpected resignation as well as his decision not to attend the conclave, has raised even more questions. But any answers will most likely depend on ecclesiastic and secular legal actions, if and when they take place. For now, we have the cardinal’s word and explanation to go on.
Cardinal O’Brien has stated that he will not travel to Rome next month, although his resignation does not prevent him from attending, because “I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focussed on me – but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his Successor.” That means that 115 electors will participate in the conclave. As reported earlier, Ukrainian Cardinal Husar will reach the age of 80 tomorrow, before the sede vacante begins, and Indonesian Cardinal Darmaatmadja will stay at home because of health reasons. Great Britain will have no elector at the conclave, although the United Kingdom will, since the Irish primate, Cardinal Brady, resides within Northern Ireland.
Cardinal O’Brien has been archbishop of Scotland’s primatial see since 1985, and he was created a cardinal in 2003 with the title church of Santi Gioacchino ed Anna al Tuscolano.
Photo credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Although with 117 cardinal electors, the upcoming conclave will be nearly at its maximum of 120, there are some striking gaps in the roster. Pope Benedict XVI created 90 cardinals in 5 consistories, and although it seems that his abdication was conceived many months ago, he left some countries rather unrepresented.
From northwestern Europe come eight cardinals, one each from the Netherlands and Belgium, and six from Germany. Those numbers are nothing out of the ordinary. But when we look further afield, we see that some of the major players are missing.
In the United Kingdom, only the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien takes part in the conclave: the archbishop of Westminster is not a cardinal. In the Ukraine, the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, is not a part of the proceedings. His predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar (pictured), turns 80 two days before the sede vacante begins and this can’t take part in the conclave. In Africa, the major Catholic countries of Angola and Mozambique have no cardinal electors. And in the Curia, finally, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller has no red hat either.
Is this something to be concerned about, then? Not really. The College of Cardinals is not in the first place intended as an accurate representation of the world Church, although there are merits to drawing from the various cultures and nationalities that compose the Church. But it is striking that, although some of the prelates mentioned above were appointed only fairly recently, the Holy Father chose not to include them in the most recent consistory, although at that time he must have had some idea that a conclave would be coming up. An oversight, or a conscious choice? Or a simple case of wanting to adhere to the rule that said that there can be no more than 120 cardinal electors?
Whatever the reason, the cardinals who will elect a new Pope in March are a reflection of the world Church in one respect: they are just as human as all of us, and from their ranks will come a Supreme Pontiff who is, in that respect, one of us.
A funny little aside from The Bitter Pill (apparently good for more than Fr. Tim-bashing):
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, has agreed to perform The Hippopotamus Song at St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral on 28 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
The cardinal, evidently not always the serious man in the photo, will be accompanied by what is called The Really Terrible Orchestra, consisting of “the cream of Edinburgh’s musically disadvantaged”.
The Hippopotamus Song is a gently satirical song written and performed by the musical comedy duo Flanders & Swann in the late 1950s.
The bishops’ conference of England and Wales and Scotland have published a rather terrific booklet with information on the upcoming papal visit to the UK. It provides answers to questions about what the pope will be doing, what the nature of his visit is and why it is significant that he will be welcomed by the Queen in Edinburgh. But it also goes beyond that, explaining about Catholic social teachings (highlighting the writings of Pope Benedict XVI on that subject), about ecumenism (even why there are different Christian denominations), the Catholic understanding of herself, the role of the Vatican in the world and in Britain, the beatification of Cardinal Newman, the ongoing abuse crisis and comparable wide-ranging topics.
Because if the wide range of topics it covers, I would say that this booklet is not just useful to the Catholics in the United Kingdom, but for Catholics (and non-Catholics) in any western, secularised country. The natural questions that arise in people are generally covered here, and they are very basic questions: why is there a Church, why is there a pope, why the seeming discrepancy between faith and society?
Signed by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Keith Cardinal O’Brien, archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, the booklet is available online via the Archdiocese of Westminster.
Numerous bloggers, especially those in the UK, have reported the news of the formal announcement of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK from 16 to 19 September. There is an extensive website about the visit, offering all the details and then some.
Anna Arco has some comments from Keith Cardinal O’Brien, archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster.
American Papist, lastly, focusses on the great news that Pope Benedict XI will personally beatify Cardinal Newman in Birmingham.
From the Very Rev. Richard Duffield, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory and Actor of the cause of John Henry Newman come these words:
The Fathers and many friends of the English Oratories are delighted by the official announcement that our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will beatify our founder, the Venerable John Henry Newman, in the Archdiocese of Birmingham during his visit to Britain in September. Newman made his home in the Archdiocese for all his adult life, first in Oxford, where he lived as an Anglican and was received into the Catholic Church, and later in Birmingham itself where he founded and worked in the Birmingham Oratory for over forty years.
The Holy Father’s life-long devotion to Newman has made a profound contribution to understanding the depth and significance of our founder’s legacy. His decision to beatify Newman in person confers a unique blessing upon the English Oratories and all who have drawn inspiration from Newman’s life and work.
The soon-to-be Blessed John Henry Newman also has a place in the banner at the top of my blog (he is the second from the right), since I consider him a great teacher, both knowledgeable and pastoral, especially for our often difficult times.