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The nasty O’Brien legacy

13 September 2013

Hatred stirred: the film story in The Guardian on Tuesday

Hatred stirred: the film story in The Guardian on Tuesday

I WOULD like to believe that there is nothing that the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland could do any more to shock me; but a story in The Observer really does show its rotten and corrupt aspect.

Catherine Deveney, who broke the story about Cardinal Keith O'Brien in February, has found a really nasty aftershock. "A Scottish Catholic priest, who has fought for 17 years to force the hierarchy to act against a fellow priest who abused him, has been dismissed from the diocese of Galloway while recovering from cancer, and issued with a formal warning for talking to The Observer.

"Father Patrick Lawson, who spoke out in The Observer in July using the pseudonym 'Father Michael', was sent a decree of removal by Bishop John Cunningham last Wednesday, forcing him to hand over the keys of his parish house within two days. . .

"'From the day Father Pat got ill he was given no support, yet they support an abuser priest,' says parishioner Brigid McMaster. "'Father Moore [the alleged abuser] was bought a house and is listed as a retired priest. He should have been defrocked.'"

Elsewhere in the story it emerges that the Rt Revd Maurice Taylor, the diocesan bishop when the scandal blew up, still does not believe Fr Moore should have been laicised - less surprising when you reflect that the two men had been on holiday together, and had together visited socially Mgr Peter Magee, then a Vatican diplomat, now the head of the Scottish church tribunal that deals with marriage annulments and canon-law cases.

The story gains force from the calm and unsensational manner of its telling. All of Deveney's reporting on this story has been distinguished by its compassion and lack of outrage. But I find it very hard to feel compassion and no outrage for the self-righteous Stalinists of the Scottish hierarchy.

What is new, however, is that the laity are starting to play a part. Fr Lawson's parishioners are threatening a boycott. There is a limit to the sins that even tribal loyalty will forgive, and the bishops, I think, are going to discover that they run a voluntary organisation, which is, in the last analysis, dependent on the goodwill, energy, and money of lay people who may well decide they have more rewarding and morally better causes to support.

The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland seems to me to share some of the characteristics of the diocese of Boston, not least a sense of pugilistic entitlement built on a strong ethnic identity. Such Churches seem impregnable from the outside; but they can very well succumb to moral revulsion from inside and underneath.


THE rest of the week's news was mostly stories of exorcism. Two Sunday tabloids had picked up on the pre-publicity for a BBC3 show about a US evangelist who has an international ministry helped by three young women (it would appear from their photograph that Satan is repelled by the right lipstick). In the Sunday Express they were "the Sexorcists".

"The trio, who all hold black belts in karate, spend their time battling Satan and banishing demons from possessed souls - after years of training to become exorcists. Savannah, 21, says: 'We have a warrior mentality so we can defend ourselves physically but can also fight the spiritual battle that is being waged every day.'

"After banishing evil spirits in Ukraine, they have come to London armed with their crucifixes and Bibles. They are determined to stop British teenagers from inviting Satan to possess them by reciting the spells in the Harry Potter books, which they believe are real."

Bob Larsson, the father of one of these girls, and their employer, has an alliance with a Dutchman, Vincent ten Bouwhuis, who runs a church in the East End of London, and offers online courses in deliverance ministry, for £500, payable in instalments. The Sunday Mirror had a story of him exorcising an unfortunate Nigerian woman and his explanation that "Yoga is harmful because it involves meditation which is an open door to the devil. The whole lotus position is geared around worshipping a demon, it's a way to please that demon."


WHAT a relief to turn to a more sophisticated spiritual leader: The Times's Saturday magazine had a long interview with Richard Dawkins, plugging his upcoming autobiography, which ends unforgettably:

"'Ah, well.' He sighs. 'I am actually more humble than I'm sometimes given credit for.' And a bit less worldly, too." I do think that being a bit less humble than Richard Dawkins is an achievement about which almost anyone could justly feel humble.

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