THIS week belonged entirely to Catherine Deveney, who broke the
Cardinal O'Brien story, and, in a series of follow-ups,
demonstrated exactly how to handle difficult and painful stories.
Not by coincidence, the Roman Catholic Bishops' press office in
Scotland gave a masterclass in blustering and disingenuous
Deveney's second piece in The Observer was absolutely
damning. It makes clear the irony that the Cardinal was publicly -
rather than privately - sacked not for groping his priests, but for
questioning the celibacy rule in an interview with the BBC. Until
then, the Papal Nuncio had proposed to hush up the sacking: the
Cardinal's resignation would have been quietly accepted, and he
would have retired to a life of prayer and penitence, after
attending and voting at the conclave.
"The first response the complainants received from the nuncio
said O'Brien should continue to go to Rome because 'that will make
it easier to arrange his retirement to be one of prayer and
seclusion like the Pope'. The complainants recognised church
subtext. In a message to me, one wrote: 'This is saying, "Leave it
to us to sweep it under the car-pet and you can forget about it. It
will fade away as if we have dealt with it." Not acceptable.'"
Only after the Observer interview was it publicly
announced that the Cardinal would be retiring. At that point, he
made things worse by claiming that his original denial was because
the allegations were non-specific and anonymous. This is simply
untrue: the first press-office response had not been that the
claims were vague and anonymous; instead, it stated: "The Cardinal
is consulting his lawyers. These claims are contested and should
not be published."
Deveney again: "Let us be clear about one thing: the three
priests, and one former priest, who have made complaints are not
anonymous. They have given sworn, signed statements to the papal
"The unnerving thing about the hunt to 'out' these men (my phone
has not stopped ringing with offers to 'make it worth my while') is
that it suggests people who have suffered traumatic events have no
rights over how to tell their story, or how much information is
made public. We demand not just that the appropriate authorities
know names - we, the public, should know them, too."
This is an example of honourable behaviour that deserves to be
praised, since it will hardly be followed. It shows just how much
good journalism depends on trust and humanity. Incidentally, it
also shows how worthless "objectivity" is as a standard of
journalism, compared with truthfulness. Deveney has taken a moral
stance, on the side of the vulnerable, not to increase their
Then she turned once more on the hierarchy: "They shield their
own - and if you speak against them, you stop being their own.
Archbishop Tartaglia of Glasgow - who caused outrage last year when
he linked the tragically premature death of David Cairns MP to his
homosexual lifestyle - publicly said prayers for the Cardinal at
mass in Edinburgh after being named as the Cardinal's temporary
replacement. He invited the cameras in while he did it.
"It is right that the Cardinal is given adequate support. It is
not right if the Church pretends that he is the victim in this. The
gold mitre, the Cardinal's robes, do not make him more worthy of
support than the men in ordinary clerical collars."
THE other really interesting piece, I thought, on all this, was
Jeremy Seabrook's, on The Guardian's website. "The shift
we have lived through ought perhaps to be seen not as a journey
from stupidity into light, but as veering from one extreme (the
cover-up of sexuality, to which it seems too many of the church
hierarchy apparently still pay homage) to another, where sex is the
primary purpose of our relationships and to claim otherwise is to
be deluded or hypocritical.
"[But] The knowingness of contemporary life is not the same
thing as wisdom. . . Our version of 'reality' is not quite the
'natural' and inevitable consequence of development, enlightenment
or knowledge we imagine it to be.
"It seems that for societies to function smoothly, their peoples
must generally lack significant insight into how they function, and
to believe that their set of conventions represents something
fundamental and universal."
SO TO Richard Dawkins's Twitter feed: "Haven't read Koran so
couldn't quote chapter and verse like I can for the Bible. But
often say Islam greatest force for evil today."
If the royalties ever dry up, at least he'll find plenty of work
as a taxi driver.