You know how it's always the most overtly, loudly homophobic conservative politicians who are found with their trousers down and a rent boy in an airport toilet cubicle?
It's not just politicians.
Here in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned earlier this week. He was archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, head of the Scottish catholic church, and the only cardinal in any of the British churches — making him the most senior catholic clergyman in the UK. He was also the UK's most ardent campaigner against marriage equality, and a public-facing homophobe with a huge bully pulpit.
This week he found himself hoist by his own petard: he stepped down after allegations of "inappropriate behaviour" were made against him — and formally set before the Vatican — by four current and ex- priests. The precise details of the "inappropriate behaviour" are not specified in the Observer article that broke the story, but probably only because they might be considered libelous in England — the implication is that he used his position of authority to make unwanted advances towards other men.
The schadenfreude is flowing thickly ...
More seriously, though: with the Vatican report on something that looks like a circle of homosexual prelates being blackmailed because of their sexuality sitting on the Pontiff's blotter like an ticking bomb, I find it hard to see how the next Pope can duck the issue and pretend it's business as usual. Maybe he can kick the can down the road for a few more years — but now I'm getting the feeling that the Vatican is facing its equivalent of Watergate. A lot of dirty laundry is going to be aired, or at least discreetly reviewed, over the next few years. And it's interesting to note that O'Brien's last public statement before the allegations that resulted in his political demise blew up was a call, in the interest of reducing the pressure on the institution, for the new Pope to allow priests to marry (presumably women, not each other).
How long can an institution exist in stasis before the growing gap between its own doctrine and the larger society it's embedded in forces a crisis?
(Footnote: I'm asking this not because I hold any particular affection for the Catholic Church (I'm an atheist) but because it's a rare example of a human institution that has survived for quadruple-digit years. Which makes it an interesting reference standard for the longevity of future long-term institutions. This is not an appropriate forum for discussions of theology and belief; any comments on those topics may be unpublished.)