Belfast Telegraph

Pope's letter over death of disgraced cardinal O'Brien criticised

By Donna Deeney

A letter of condolence sent by Pope Francis after the death of a disgraced Northern Ireland-born Cardinal has been strongly criticised.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, from Ballycastle in Co Antrim, passed away earlier this week after a fall.

In 2013, he was forced to resign as the most authoritative voice in the Catholic Church in Scotland following serious allegations of sexual misconduct against him.

Pope Francis penned a telegram of condolences to Archbishop Leo Cushley, Cardinal O'Brien's successor in St Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese.

In it, he said: "I was saddened to learn of the death of His Eminence Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, and I offer heartfelt condolences to you, his family and all who mourn his passing.

"Commending his soul to the merciful love of God our Father, and with the assurance of my prayers for the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and consolation in our Lord Jesus Christ."

Margaret McGuckin, from the group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA), which provides support to all victims of abuse, criticised the move by the Pope.

Ms McGuckin said: "This doesn't even surprise me, but it is just one more demonstration that the church once again has let down victims.

"The Pope said he will pray for Keith O'Brien, his family, the diocese - but not the victims.

"This would have been such a difficult week for them and a letter like this will be a further kick in the teeth for them.

"The church keeps on telling us how it has changed and how it has learned lessons from the past, but it hasn't changed one bit.

"This Pope is the same as the one who came before him and the one who came before that, not one thing has changed.

"Victims have been let down for decades and they continue to let down victims by sending out letters of condolences which don't even acknowledge the victims."

O'Brien (80) was forced to resign amid allegations of sexual misconduct by four adult males.

While he initially denied the claims - which dated back to the 1980s and were revealed after an investigation by the Observer newspaper - he later admitted they were true.

He apologised and stepped down from his powerful position after sending a letter of resignation to Pope Benedict, which was accepted.

Speaking on the same day the Pope confirmed he would visit Ireland this year, Ms McGuckin added: "I am going to Dublin when Pope Francis comes to Ireland to stand up in protest for all the victims of the Church who have been ignored and left out in the cold."

In 2015, he renounced all rights of his cardinalship which means that his funeral arrangements will be handled by the Vatican with very little input from the Church in Scotland.

Ms McGuckin said that if they include the pomp and ceremony which usually form a funeral of a member of the Catholic hierarchy, this too will send out a message that victims don't matter.

She explained: "The church keeps on telling us how sorry it is for the abuse inflicted on victims, both child, adult and institutional, and that lessons have been learned, but time and time again, the church stage these funerals full of pomp and ceremony for abusers.

"This is not the way a church that is genuinely sorry or that has the needs of victims at its centre would act.

"I would like to think that Cardinal O'Brien's funeral will be a small, private affair, but unfortunately experience tells us this is unlikely to be the case."

Cardinal O'Brien's death was announced by Archbishop Cushley, who did ask for prayers for his victims.

He said: "In life, Cardinal O'Brien may have divided opinion - in death, however, I think all can be united in praying for the repose of his soul, for comfort for his grieving family and that support and solace be given to those whom he hurt and let down. May he rest in peace."

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