I am not a Roman Catholic. For me, this is simply a fact of life. It does not please or displease me and might be called simply an accident of birth. As the issue of a mixed and very happy marriage, I might just as easily have been brought up as a Roman Catholic, instead of under the umbrella of the Church of Scotland.
My father always took advantage of working extra overtime shifts at weekends. My best pal Brian's dad did the same, so as wee boys we used to take ourselves off to be lifted over the turnstiles ( common practise then!) by the men in the crowd, to see our local football team, Hibernian, play at Easter Road. Often as not, Brian's mum would feed us after the game. My mother knew I was in good hands with the Kelly's. They were a Roman Catholic family, but the subject of religion never came up and certainly did not intrude on our friendship.
In those days, I used to wear a pair of indestructible (they had to be!) thick and rather loud tweed short trousers. Brian's older sister, Cathy, always wore long black stockings. She thought I looked ridiculous and I must say the feeling was mutual. Many years later, when I was invited to give a talk to a local Conservative Association group, to my great surprise I recognised, in the audience, an attractive mature lady sitting with her husband. After having been introduced by the chairman to the audience, I decided to break the ice with my opening remarks, " Good evening ladies and gentlemen, forgive me but I've just spotted an old friend sitting at the back of the hall - how are you doing Liquorice legs?" When the laughter had died down, Cathy, quick as a flash replied,"Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't recognise you at firs, fancy pants !
Maybe this live and let live attitude I was lucky enough to experience as a child, accounts for my disgust now with bigotry and sectarianism. The low-life creatures who would seek to deny a fellow man the right to worship his own God in his own way, should have no place in a civilised society. Sadly, we seem to have more than our fair share of these head-bangers in Scotland. Witness the village with the red, white and blue kerbstones on the 4th of July, or the pub lounge that was wrecked because the new decor featured in it's paint job a blue coach line instead of a green one. These are only two examples of the dark side of organised religion.
In my opinion, one can lead a reasonable decent life without adopting a :holier than thou" attitude to society. In that respect, it is interesting to see the sanctimonious halo chasing Holy Willies lining up to put the knife into Cardinal Keith O'Brian. It is also unedifying to hear the parade of publicity seekers in the gay community gleefully howling "hypocrite!"
I hold no brief for Cardinal O'Brian or his church. What he did was despicable exacerbated by the fact that the young men victimised were under his care and protection. The only decent thing he has done in the whole sorry affair, after an initial wobbly panic of denial, was to resign, go, and later confess. He is a disgraced. He is ruined. He is finished. He has lost everything. In my view, there is simply no merit, in putting the boot into a man who clearly is down and out. It never used to be the Scottish or British way. What ever happened to the concept of compassion, not to mention forgiveness? In my layman's ignorance, I thought that was what the Christian religion was all about. This ongoing vilification is both unnecessary and distasteful. The man clearly already has been condemned in the court of public opinion.
I suggest that the great majority of viewers, of all religious denominations, who saw on television, the shocked look of the laity streaming out of St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh, would feel sympathetic, especially towards the elderly and less resilient of the people. They looked absolutely stunned and shattered to discover that the man who gave every outward appearance of being a good, forthright, honest and dependable pillar of the Catholic Church, should be exposed as a total fraud. I have no doubt that many of his flock would not always have agreed with some of his outspoken opinions, but this revelation about his private life was just unthinkable. No wonder they looked shocked, confused and bewildered.
In the broader sense, this mess does Scotland no favours in the eyes of the world. Even dirty linen that should be washed in public is, to say the least, embarrassing and demeaning.
So, we have yet another disaster for Rome. It is almost as if someone has pressed the self-destruct button. The Catholic Church in Scotland has lost all credibility and moral authority. Religion aside, in general terms this fiasco is a body blow to Scotland's reputation and pride. The new Pope will be plunged into a damage limitation exercise, of that I have no doubt. In my view, first and foremost , he will have to do some dead-heading in the church hierarchy. It would be naive to think Keith O'Brian's case is unique. There is much wrong with the Roman Catholic Church, but there are many good things too, which are essential to salvage and cherish. The rot must be ruthlessly gauged out and not as has happened all to often previously, simply hushed up or swiftly swept under the carpet.
It is clear that , as things stand , the Cardinals who have voted in the Conclave , one of their own number from Argentina as the new Pope Francis , have handed him something of a poisoned chalice . Regaining respect , credibility and moral authority will be an immense and I suspect a distinctly prolonged task , for this very special person . Pope Francis himself , when addressing the Cardinals , neatly encapsulated the enormity of his task with his wry joke ; " May God forgive you for what you have done to me!"
Is he the saviour among them ? We shall see.