Baroness Helena Kennedy describes 'torture' of Roman Catholic priests forced to be celibate

Leading peer speaks of 'huge compassion' she feels towards Cardinal Keith O'Brien

Leading peer and QC Baroness Helena Kennedy has spoken of the “huge compassion” she feels towards Cardinal Keith O'Brien following his admission that his sexual conduct had “fallen beneath the standards” expected of him.

Lady Kennedy said it was "torture" for the Roman Catholic Church to force priests who wanted to have a sex life to be celibate as she spoke at a news conference calling for reform of the Catholic Church.

"I feel very sad for Cardinal O'Brien because here was a man who quite clearly had wanted to have a sexual life and felt that it was a failing for him to want to have a sexual life and that he was going against his commitment to celibacy," she said.

"It is terrible to torture people by expecting that of them and I just feel huge compassion for him. I do not like the idea that there might be an issue of being predatory but I do not want to make a judgment on that.

"But he himself has said that he was involved in sexual activity and I feel very sad that that was something that he had to in some way bury, then give expression to - then feel shame and guilt and presumably is absolutely covered with guilt now.

"I feel very sad for him and for his victims."

Lady Kennedy's remarks come after Cardinal O'Brien resigned last week from his post as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh amid allegations of "inappropriate behaviour" towards three serving priests and one former priest.

This weekend Cardinal O'Brien admitted that his sexual conduct had "fallen beneath the standards" expected of him and asked forgiveness of those he had offended.

In a statement, he said: "Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them.

"However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."

Lady Kennedy, who was brought up in Glasgow as a Roman Catholic, was speaking at the launch in the House of Commons of the Catholic scholars declaration on authority in the Church.

The group has said that the faithful have suffered from "misguided" church rulings on sexual ethics, including contraception, homosexuality and remarriage. It has called for a new pope to introduce more democracy in the Church.

Lady Kennedy told the news conference that she backed the Catholic Church's work in areas such as alleviating poverty and also its stance on opposing the Iraq war.

But she said there had been "serious crises" in the Catholic Church and it faced issues of "transparency, accountability and governance.

"The Church has existed for millennia and like all ancient institutions it is very slow to change and it is confronted with a number of problems," she said.

"It is almost exclusively run by men and that is how the world was, we don't have to see it as a conspiracy, it was the nature of things," she said.

"We have to recognise that within the Catholic Church power is located in one gender, we might dress up the story of women playing important roles in the Church but it is actually a fiction and is unacceptable in the modern world.

"That issue of women's absence from the positions of power within the Church I do think creates a serious dysfunction for the Church."

Lady Kennedy said she was opposed to compulsory celibacy for the priesthood, saying it should be a choice. Women should also be permitted to become Catholic priests, she said.

"I think we as people who are part of this Church recognise that there is a wholly disproportionate, if you like, distraction about sex, it arises on many different fronts, the unwillingness to accept that in relationships people give expression to their love in many different ways, that there is nothing that is unhealthy about having a sexual drive.

"Unfortunately, we still cling to this idea that sex really is about reproduction."

Lady Kennedy said she was not speaking as someone who would consider herself to be a "devout" Catholic. She said she preferred to call herself a "bad" Catholic.

"I call myself a bad Catholic, I say that I am a bad Catholic... that is my declaration because I don't feel that the Church is in any way reflecting the things that are the concerns of many of the women who are brought up as Catholics," she said.

"The is the reason why so many young people are no longer practising Catholics, we don't feel that the Church in any way is engaging with the issues that concern them."

Speaking about the term "devout" to describe Catholics, she said: "The word for me is often a description of people who I think, do less credit to the Church."

She added that the Church had failed in its investigation of child sex abuse.

Lady Kennedy was joined by Catholic peer Lord Hylton, Professor Ursula King, of Bristol University, Siobhain McDonagh, the Labour MP, and Dutch-born John Wijngaards, a theologian and former Catholic priest who is acting as international co-ordinator for the declaration.

Mr Wijngaards said the declaration had gained the support of 179 theologians and scholars worldwide and would be presented in Rome tomorrow, where the cardinals of the Catholic Church are preparing for a conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.

"The election of a new pope is a rare opportunity for the Church to reconsider its systems of governance, to introduce a more democratic system of electing leaders and to reassess the leaders' accountability to the faithful," he said.

He added that there needed to be reform of the way leaders within the Church were appointed.

"A system has developed by which only candidates are selected and appointed and then ordained, of a certain mind, a certain way of thinking, that corresponds with what they think should be right," he said.

"As a result, the Church is in danger of being governed by a self perpetuating little group of people, who are just creating clones in their own mind, instead of having a fresh input."

PA

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices