His Eminence, The Lord Cardinal
Msgr. Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien
Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh
Serve the Lord with Gladness
H.E. The Lord Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien
Who is Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien?
H.E. The Lord Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien
Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien is the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, having been ordained Bishop by his predecessor, Cardinal Gray, on the 5th August 1985 and created a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II on the 21st October 2003. At the present time, he is also President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.
Eminence, how have you discovered your vocation?
I have wanted to be a priest since an early age. Having been born in the North of Ireland, my family moved to Scotland when I was eleven years of age. Initially, I applied to enter the Junior Seminary in Scotland when living with my family in Glasgow. However, I was rejected by the Archbishop of Glasgow of the time because I had a heart murmur. Similarly, when I completed my secondary school education in Edinburgh in the East of Scotland, I was deferred by the Archbishop of the time, Cardinal Gordon Joseph Gray, who indicated to me: “because of your heart murmur, go to Edinburgh University first and if you survive the University, you might survive the Seminary!”
Do you remember some anecdotes back from your seminary years and from your early priesthood life?
Not only shepherds to the sheep but mothers!
With regard to certain anecdotes, they basically all would concern people. When a seminarian, we had three days per week of manual work in the afternoon which I thoroughly enjoyed. On one particular occasion, the mother of two lambs died and along with another fellow student (now the Bishop of Dunkeld in Scotland), we both had the responsibility of being not only shepherds to the sheep but mothers!
I think most warmly of parishioners in my early years in the priesthood. I particularly remember a young man, Stuart Rae, whose mother had died of a brain tumour. When a young man still at secondary school, he was found to be suffering from the same disease and it was a great privilege helping him to prepare for his death. When I asked him on one occasion if he was frightened of dying, he simply said: “no, Father, I am simply on my way to meet my mum!”
What advice do you give to young men considering the priesthood?
When I regularly meet young men considering the priesthood, I would certainly say to them that they are considering a wonderful vocation! I would further say that when asked to be Archbishop, I chose as my motto words from Psalm 99 “Serve the Lord with Gladness”! I indicated that I had had twenty very happy years as a priest and I had every intention of having happy years as a Bishop for however long!
Where were you when the Pope announced your name as one of the new cardinals?
H.E. Archbishop Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien
When my name was announced as one of the new Cardinals, I was celebrating a Sunday Mass in one of the smallest and remote Parishes from Edinburgh as is possible in our Archdiocese. It was the small Parish of St Anthony’s, Balfron where I was celebrating Sunday Mass and the nine hundred years of Christianity in that small area of Scotland.
What is your personal memory of the Blessed Pope John Paul II?
H.H. Blessed Pope John Paul II
My own personal memory of Blessed Pope John Paul II is of his great humanity and his wonderful welcome to his own home in the Apostolic Palace to whoever he could manage to invite there. It was a high point always of our Ad Limina visits when we shared a wonderful meal during our visits with the Pope in his own apartments. Concelebrating Mass with him in his Private Chapel was also a vitally important experience for me, particularly as a young Bishop – and not only sharing Mass with the Pope but watching him at his private prayer.
"God forges saints on the anvil of love, which sometimes takes the form of a cross." What is His Eminence’s comment on this?
The Cross of Christ
Having recently preached on Easter Sunday on “the Cross of Christ”, I asked – without demanding – my people here in Scotland to wear a simple “cross” on their lapels or round their necks as a sign to them of the true message of Christianity – that we are led from the cross of suffering to the joy of the Resurrection. I also indicated that the cross would, I am sure, when worn publicly, often initiate conversation about shared Christianity, shared values and a shared love leading to Christ.
Why is so important to society that marriage be preserved as the exclusive union of a man and a woman?
The Catholic Marriage
I see it that marriage should be preserved as the exclusive union of a man and a woman quite simply because that is the way God ensures the continuity of the human race. One might say: “as it was in the beginning ……”.
Of course, the union of marriage was sanctified with the Grace of the Sacrament by Jesus, Himself, when He was on earth. There is no way in which the meaning of the word “marriage” can be changed.
In light of the Church’s teaching about the truth and beauty of marriage, what should Catholics do?
The Church does, indeed, have a very beautiful teaching about marriage. Consequently, Catholics should respect not only the beliefs of the Church but translate them into their own lives as their own firmly held beliefs. They, themselves, should live their married life to the highest possible standard of love - sharing into the love of Jesus, Himself, and also into the families with which God will bless them.
How should Christians respond in the so-called illegal immigration debate?
The illegal immigration question
With regard to the so called Illegal Immigration Debate, Christians should respond by following the laws of the land; do their best to change those laws if they think them to be discriminating against possible immigrants; but to show love to everyone involved in the debate.
How can the Church suggest ways to humanise the world of finance in order to make it more equal and fair?
We need to find ways how to humanise the world of finance!
With regard to the world of finance, I would ask those who are so clearly much richer than others to consider the teachings of the Gospel with regard to care for the poor and the less able. Recently, I have spoken out highly in favour of the “Robin Hood Tax” with which the rich are asked to give a small proportion of their gains from large financial deals by way of tax to help the poor, both at home and abroad. I think that by sharing in the values of that tax, the richest people in the world might give a wonderful example.
How is the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh involved against the culture of abortion and euthanasia?
My own Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh has been involved over the years in many pro-life issues. I frequently preach and teach about these subjects without in any way being “exclusive” – and hopefully help the culture of life being victorious over the culture of death.
What does ‘Centesimus Annus’ really teach?
The encyclical 'Centesimus Annus'
I think the Church in “Centesimus Annus” teaches us the value of each and every person and how we must respect their human rights. So much of the teaching of the Church has been neglected throughout the years – and perhaps it is because of our own lack of teaching about this and other Church documents.
What can be done to prevent pedophiles from entering the priesthood?
I always remember having been told at Seminary that the priesthood should be “difficult to enter yet easy to leave”. By this, I think that our standards for entering the priesthood should be ever increasingly high – so that only the best of people are accepted for the priesthood and certainly those without any major aberrations. In the second part of my Statement, I refer to those who consider leaving the priesthood – there is nothing worse than an unhappy priest, a sinful priest, or one who has lost his faith. It might be that if he was no longer a priest, then he would find Christ in some other career.
What contribution can the Church in your country give to Europe?
The countries of the European Union
I think our Church can give example to other countries at present in the EU – and help to individuals. Although Scotland and our Catholic Church in Scotland are small in number, I think we have a very great influence throughout Europe and, of course, Scotland is a wonderful centre for tourism.
Further, those in positions of responsibility including myself should be actively involved in whatever societies or organisations are open to us. I, myself, rejoice as President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland in meeting annually the Presidents of the other Bishops’ Conferences of Europe from both Western Europe and Eastern Europe and exchanging views and growing in our knowledge and appreciation of one another.
My final question, what do you see, your Eminence as the great danger and the great hope in the Church today?
The Youth are the real hope of the Catholic Church!
I see the greatest danger at this present time in our Church of “secularism”, namely not observing the highest ideals and standards of our faith but rather descending to a “lowest common denominator”. The standards of the Church are the standards of Jesus Christ and they must, indeed, be high!
I see the greatest hope in the Church of today as being in our young people who challenge us in so very many ways. They respond to the challenges particularly by the way they try to live their faith in a difficult secular world – and also in the way in which they spread the Gospel in the various Projects which they undertake, either from home or in countries abroad along with their friends and colleagues.
With every blessing in all of your endeavours, Frank, and my blessing and prayers for you and for all of your family.
Yours sincerely in Christ
+ Keith Patrick Cardinal O’Brien
Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh