The resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien heralds more turmoil for the Catholic Church. While he denies allegations of improper conduct levelled at him by three priests and a former priest, it is an issue which will not go away. The damage done to the church in Ireland by clerical sexual abuse of young people has eroded its moral and political authority and there is no doubt that these latest allegations – which unproven – will lead many to question the standing of the church in Scotland.
Cardinal O'Brien, who had tendered his resignation last November before these allegations surfaced, has done the right thing in standing aside now instead of allowing a media feeding frenzy to develop. The Pope, who is to retire on Thursday, also made the correct move in agreeing to the Cardinal leaving office.
Of course what it does is leave big problems for both their successors. For the new Scottish cardinal the task will be somewhat similar. While Cardinal O'Brien certainly won respect for much of his work, his outspoken views on gays and abortion hit a discordant note with many.
The new Pope, no matter which wing of the church he comes from, has an immense task in restoring the credibility of the church as well as its moral authority. In recent times the devotion of the faithful has lessened greatly with fewer and fewer attending church regularly. They feel that the conservative nature of the church – along with the known scandals and any other secrets which may emerge, has little significance in their increasingly secular lives.
No one really believes that the problems facing the church – or the errant behaviour of its clergy – are likely to disappear soon. That may well have played a part in the decision of Pope Benedict to retire, accepting that sorting out the mess will need leadership from a man in more robust health and with more vitality for the struggle. Whether the cardinals will elect such a man to the papacy will be known soon.