Editorial: The fine line between justice and a witch-hunt

Share
Related Topics

It did not take the Vatican long to accept the resignation of the head of the Scottish Catholic Church, Cardinal Keith O'Brien. With Pope Benedict set to leave office on Thursday, speed was of the essence. But speedy, too, was the Cardinal's recognition that, whatever the strength of the allegations against him – and he has rejected them – the interests of the Church were unlikely to be served by his hanging on until his retirement next month. That judgement was surely right. His resignation was tendered a week ago, although it was only made public yesterday.

Nor will the Cardinal's departure be mourned by all Catholics. Cardinal O'Brien's was one of the most outspoken voices against government plans to legalise gay marriage. His comments on homosexual relationships generally were immoderate and offensive, confirming views of the Catholic hierarchy as harsh, backward-looking and unforgiving. His recent suggestion that some priests should be allowed to marry and have children did little to soften his image as an unreconstructed conservative.

Not all, though, may be as simple as it seems. The resignation of Cardinal O'Brien, who was Britain's most senior Catholic cleric, means that Britain will be unrepresented at the coming papal conclave, which is regrettable. His early departure can also be seen as playing into the campaign being waged by some US Catholics to bar all cardinals implicated in child sex abuse from taking part in the conclave.

The accusations against Cardinal O'Brien, in so far as they have become public, are different, in that they relate to claims of inappropriate advances not towards children, but towards more junior priests. But it is hard to escape the impression that the allegations, which were made more than 20 years after the encounters supposedly took place and in the same week as Pope Benedict's unexpected resignation, were timed to cause maximum damage to the Cardinal's reputation while he was still in office and to the Catholic Church when it was in the public eye.

Which is where a link suggests itself to another set of recent allegations relating to what is being delicately called inappropriate behaviour. If the accusations made against the former chief executive of the Liberal Democratic Party, Lord Rennard, have any foundation – and he has denied them – then his behaviour was clearly unacceptable and his continuation in that office untenable. But the timing of the claims – a week before a high-stakes by-election that the Liberal Democrats, however improbably, appeared set to win and four years after Lord Rennard's retirement – smacks of gamesmanship. Why, it is worth asking, have the allegations surfaced only now, rather than when the alleged impropriety was taking place – or, indeed, any other time than now?

A very partial answer to that question, as to the same question posed by the case of Cardinal O'Brien, is that times have changed – and largely for the better. The disgrace that once attached to someone who complained of harassment, or worse, has diminished, as has the propensity of the establishment for disbelief. That the Catholic Church was riddled with child sex abuse and tried to cover it up is now established as a shameful fact. So is the readiness of some bosses to use sex to exert their power.

Most adults on the receiving end of such behaviour should now both feel able to object, and should do so; abused children should be assured of a more sympathetic hearing than often in the past. Meanwhile, dredging up old allegations for any purpose other than bringing an offender belatedly to book has the unseemly whiff of the witch-hunt.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone