Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cardinal's departure leaves church in crisis

Belfast Newsletter
March 2, 2013

THE Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is facing its “gravest crisis” since the Protestant Reformation, a leading church theologian has claimed.

Scottish academic Professor Tom Devine made the claim after the country’s primate - Ballycastle-born Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned amid allegations of “inappropriate sexual behaviour”. The cardinal is strongly contesting the claims by three serving priests and a former priest.

Professor Devine, a personal friend of the cardinal, said: “This is probably the gravest single public crisis to hit the Catholic Church in Scotland since the Reformation.”

“Its effects in the short term are incalculable,” said the senior Edinburgh University research professor.

He believes, however, that, although the Roman Catholic faithful in Scotland would initially be stunned by the “seismic turn of events”, the church had a powerful resilience that should not be under-estimated.

The resignation of Cardinal O’Brien as archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh followed claims that he had acted inappropriately to four priests who had been in the ministry in the 1980s.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien was due to take part in the Vatican conclave to elect the Pope to succeed Pope Benedict XV1, whose resignation took effect this week.

However, 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 apologise to all whom I have offended.”

Cardinal O’Brien has been replaced in a temporary capacity in the archdiocese of Edinburgh and St Andrews by Glasgow prelate Archbishop Philip Tartaglia.

Today, more than two-thirds of the population in Scotland claim to be Christian.

The Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), known as The Kirk (founded by John Knox in 1560), is recognised in law as the national church of Scotland. It is not an established church and is independent of state control. However, it is the largest religious grouping in Scotland, with approximately 45 per cent of the population, while a significant proportion are not regular church-goers, identifying themselves from this particular background.

The other major denomination is the Roman Catholic Church, the traditional Christian church of Scotland prior to the Protestant Reformation, which claims about 16 per cent of the population (650,000), largely of Irish emigrant extraction, mainly located in west-central Scotland the Glasgow-Lanarkshire-Lothians belt) and the Highlands. There are also tens of thousands of Baptists, Episcopalians and conservative Free Presbyterians (‘Wee Frees’) in Scotland, with smaller numbers of Quakers, Pentecostal and Gospel Hall members.

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