Revealed: Sex shame cardinal Keith O’Brien enjoying retirement in £208k Northumberland bungalow provided by Catholic Church
DESPITE O’Brien’s self-imposed exile from Scotland, he is living just 50 miles across the Border in a house bought by Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh Leo Cushley.
It had been believed O’Brien was doing penance at a monastery in England after admitting he had “fallen beneath the standards” expected of him.
But the UK’s former senior Catholic is staying in a £208,750 bungalow – bought by Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh Leo Cushley – in a Northumberland village.
O’Brien, 76, refused to explain his situation yesterday, saying only: “I’m not speaking to anyone at the moment.”
The disgraced churchman has been staying in the former pit village of Ellington, Northumberland, since January.
The house was purchased in the same month by Cushley – who succeeded O’Brien as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh – and two other leading churchmen in their capacity as trustees of the archdiocese.
O’Brien would not answer questions yesterday about why he was living on the other side of England from Cumbria, where he was understood to be undertaking a religious retreat.
When pressed on the house ownership, he replied: “You’ll need to check that with the diocese. I’m not talking about it, I’m not allowed to talk about it.”
Despite his self-imposed exile from Scotland, O’Brien’s new home is just 50 miles across the Border.
Neighbours, unaware of his identity, spoke of regular groups of visitors with Scottish accents.
Asked about his guests and whether villagers knew he was a cardinal, O’Brien answered: “I’m not saying anything. Just leave it at that, the diocese will deal with it.”
O’Brien was brought down after being accused of hypocrisy over his continual condemnation of homosexuality.
He called it a “moral degradation” and described gay marriage as “harmful”.
Three serving Catholic Fathers and one former priest then came forward to accuse him of inappropriate sexual contact with them dating back decades.
One claimed O’Brien made an approach to him in 1980, after night prayers, when he was a seminarian at St Andrew’s College, Drygrange.
Another complainant said he had been living in a parish when he was visited by the cardinal and inappropriate contact had taken place between them.
A third complainant alleged he had faced what he described as “unwanted behaviour” by the cardinal in the 1980s after some late-night drinking.
A fourth complainant claimed that the cardinal had used night prayers as an excuse for inappropriate contact with him.
O’Brien stepped down from his role in February last year and and remains under investigation by the Vatican, who ordered him to undertake an unspecified period of “prayer and penance”.
Former Vatican diplomat Cushley was named his successor and in November met the complainants, who tabled a formal request for information about O’Brien’s rise to power.
They may be concerned to learn Cushley’s name appears as a registered owner of the property now occupied by his shamed predecessor.
The other purchasers of the house in Ellington are Monsignor Alistair Lawson and Monsignor Philip Kerr, who hold the important title of Vicar General.
They are named in title deeds as having bought the house as “trustees of the charity known as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh”.
The purchase came less than a year after the allegations against O’Brien were made public.
And the first record of the disgraced cardinal appearing on the voters’ roll there came later that same month.
Yesterday, O’Brien strolled down the main street of Ellington at lunchtime, walking a dog. Wearing a casual shirt, he looked relaxed and in good health as he left his detached bungalow.
He wandered to a local nature reserve, then stopped for a chat with another dog walker and nodded to other villagers.
He seemed not to have a care in the world and looked like any of the other pensioners living in the village, which has a small post office, a convenience store and a pub.
One local man said: “Very few people in the village know who he is.
“Most people would only have seen pictures of him in his cardinal robes and the fact is he looks quite different in everyday clothes. It is not every village that can boast a cardinal living in it. But most villagers won’t know that he is the subject of such serious allegations.
“He keeps himself to himself. One of the neighbours twigged that it could be him, and then heard all of the Scottish voices of the people who visit him.
“He gets frequent vists from what look like family groups. There’s a couple of adults and young girl with a dog.”
Another local woman said: “It is almost unbelievable that a cardinal lives in Ellington. I had no idea.
“If you want a quiet life away from the limelight, or let’s be honest, to hide away, then this is the place to do it.”
O’Brien is still a cardinal and retains the right to vote at any future papal conclave, though chose not to do so when Pope Francis was elected.
He will remain a cardinal until he is 80, but may be stripped of his office by the Vatican following their inquiry.
Bishop Charles Scicluna has been appointed by the Congregation for Bishops as their special envoy to listen and report on the allegations.
Bishop Scicluna has been credited with reforming the Vatican’s attitude to sexual abuse over the past decade, overhauling internal norms to make it easier to defrock abusers.
When O’Brien stepped down, he admitted he had been sexually active throughout his time in the Church. He said: “There have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”
Last night, a spokesman for the Diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh said: “Some retired clergy have accommodation bought for their use although such properties are always owned by the diocese.
“This is the case with the house arranged for Cardinal O’Brien. Its location is in accordance with the agreement between him and the Holy See. The details of the transaction are a matter of public record and the price was within the cost range of other purchases for retired clergy housing.”