Catholic Church controversies since Benedict XVI's resignation

The resignation of British Cardinal Keith O'Brien on Feb. 24 over allegations of inappropriate behaviour is the latest scandal facing the Catholic Church. Here's a look at controversies that have emerged since Pope Benedict's announced his resignation on Feb. 11.
Ghanian Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson received criticism from LGBT groups and even a Catholic bishop for his remarks that seemed to link the problem of pedophilia with homosexuality. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

The resignation of British Cardinal Keith O'Brien on Feb. 24 over allegations of inappropriate behaviour is the latest scandal facing the Catholic Church in the run-up to the election of the next pope in March.

Here's a look at controversies that have emerged since Pope Benedict announced his resignation on Feb. 11.

O'Brien's resignation

On Feb. 24, the Vatican accepted the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who heads the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. The 74-year-old O'Brien faces misconduct allegations after three priests and one former priest within the Diocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh filed complaints that he approached them in an inappropriate way, the Observer newspaper reported on Feb. 23.

The physical advances allegedly took place as far back as 30 years ago.

Although O’Brien is contesting the allegations, by stepping down he will no longer be a part of the conclave that will choose a new pope in March.

"I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me, but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor," O'Brien said following his resignation.


On Feb. 21, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that Benedict's decision to step down could have been the result of wanting to distance himself from allegations that a network of closeted gay priests in the Vatican was being subjected to blackmail.

According to the paper, the Pope's decision to step down came on the same day last December that he received a dossier related to the so-called "Vatileaks" controversy — the 2012 scandal in which the Pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested for allegedly stealing secret documents.  

La Repubblica reported that the dossier concluded that because of their alleged homosexuality, some members of the Holy See were susceptible to "external influence," in other words, blackmail.

The Vatican replied on Feb. 23 by condemning the "false and damaging reports" and suggesting that the media were trying to influence the election of the next pontiff.

U.S. allegations of coverup

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, former head of the largest Catholic archdiocese in the U.S., is being urged not to take part in the conclave after being accused of protecting more than 120 sexually abusive priests during his time as the archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985 to 2011.

According to the L.A. Times, a Catholic organization called Catholic United has gathered thousands of signatures and took a petition to Mahoney on Feb. 23, asking that for the well-being of the Catholic Church, Mahony refrain from participating in the conclave.

The protest is in response to the Jan. 31 release of 12,000 pages of personal documents dealing with the accusations and Mahony and other officials’ handling of them, which were published by court order. The files showed that Mahony helped keep accused priests of out trouble.

In one instance, the files showed that an accused priest by the name of Aguilar Rivera fled to Mexico when Thomas Curry, Mahony’s aide, advised him that parents of the allegedly abused children might go to the police. Rivera is still a fugitive in Mexico, the Times reported.

Mahony retired in 2011, and the day the documents were released, Mahony’s successor — Jose Gomez — stripped him of his remaining public duties.

In 2007, Mahony and his diocese apologized for the abuse of hundreds of victims and reached a collective settlement worth $660 million with more than 500 families of children who claimed to have been abused.

Homosexuality and Africa

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana is viewed as a likely contender to become the next pope.

In a February interview, CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour asked the 64-year-old cardinal whether the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church could reach Africa, a part of the world where the church is growing.

Turkson felt this was unlikely to happen, because he said homosexuality is tolerated less in many parts of Africa.

"African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its population against this tendency," he said. "Because in several communities, in several cultures in Africa, homosexuality, or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind, are not countenanced in our society. So, that cultural 'taboo,' that tradition has been there. It's helped to keep this out."

Kieran Conry, British bishop of Arundel and Brighton, was one of many people to criticize Turkson's comment, in which he appeared to equate homosexuality with pedophilia.

"Homosexuality is irrelevant to the child-abuse problem," Conry was quoted as saying in a report in the newspaper, The  Australian.