In a move intended to signal that the Vatican will no longer tolerate sexual abuse, the disgraced Scottish Cardinal O’Brian has been asked to leave that country and to spend several months in prayer and atonement. The Vatican will rule on the case at some point, but so far the church’s track record of disciplining cardinals has been pretty weak. For example, a cardinal in the United States was caught covering up for priests who had committed acts of child abuse. The cardinal resigned from that post, but was given a plush job at the Vatican. Some have said, in today’s Catholic Church, cardinals are virtually “untouchable.”

To make the story more complicated, this Cardinal has been an outspoken critic of gay rights. He had called same-sex marriage a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.” So when he confessed “that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal” (translation: he had inappropriate sexual behavior with men), some said that his (and the church’s) primary sin is hypocrisy. How can the church be so persistent in forcing its morals upon others, and so negligent in holding its own hierarchy to any kind of meaningful accountability? For the same acts, lay people go to prison and clergy get transferred.

Some will object to the statement that Cardinal O’Brian has been sentenced to a three month vacation. They will say that this will be a time of prayer and penitance. But shouldn’t priests be doing that all the time? When all is said and done, Cardinal O’Brian is expected to move to a comfortable retirement in church supported lodgings. For now, his “punishment” is to lay low for several months. Perhaps, his transgressions will soon be forgotten; but, right now, the Scottish bishops want him out of that country because they say he is damaging the church’s credibility.

And I suspect this problem will continue as long as the church is more concerned with its credibility than its integrity.