Cardinal O’Brien has now admitted guilt, in a way, and said he is withdrawing from public life.

What a shattering thing for the Catholic Church in the UK. O’Brien was a leading critic of same-sex marriage and gay rights. This doesn’t mean the teaching he advocated was wrong. It does mean that he’s made it a laughingstock. Here’s Damian Thompson just now in the Telegraph:

I’m deeply unimpressed by Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s vague and guarded admission that “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”. Does he really think he can leave it at that? After raging against gay marriage with a ferocity that was – I suspect – intended to make the English bishops look wimpish and therefore butter up the Vatican?

Scottish Catholics in particular have the right to ask: What the hell do you mean by “sexual conduct”?

More:

You’ve been exposed as a hypocrite, Keith Patrick O’Brien. Possibly a liar as well. Don’t kid yourself that this evasive statement will bring matters to a close.

Andrew Sullivan and I agree on almost nothing when it comes to the Church and sexual morality, but we do agree on this: it is time for the secrets and lies to end. Just end it. The Christian Church — Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant — has no credibility to preach orthodox Christian sexuality to a world remade by the Sexual Revolution, when its own pastors, especially bishops and other senior leaders, exempt themselves from those teachings.

Authority and credibility are not the same thing, but in our time, the Church’s authority, in practical terms, depends on the credibility of its ministers. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, if the cardinals going into the conclave don’t understand how sexual corruption in the clerical and bishops’ ranks is devastating the Church’s witness, they will only condemn themselves and the Church they serve to more mockery and more irrelevance.

And: if they think the O’Brien revelations are the last of their kind, they’re dreaming. More is coming.