When Keith Cardinal O'Brien was forced to resign at the end of February because of sexual misconduct involving the Cardinal's unwanted advances towards the priests of his Archdiocese, the anxiety level among the cardinals must have risen a notch or two. Cardinal O'Brien was not an obscure back-bencher. He had in fact gained some prominence on the world stage. He made progressives happy by suggesting that clerical celibacy needed a second look. And he delighted social conservatives with his vigorous attacks on homosexuality. All the while, it seems, he kept effectively concealed his own indiscretions -- which, the New York Times has pointed out, may involve members of his clergy but, given the sweeping nature of his admission, could involve instances of misconduct involving others as well. See John F. Burns, "Following Resignation, Top British Cardinal Acknowledges Sexual Misconduct," New York Times, March 3, 2013.
As the cardinals size up one another as papabile -- "papal material" -- they must now ask themselves, "are there any skeletons in the closet?" Have any of the cardinals concealed pedophilia on the part of their priests? Are there other shoes yet to drop? Or, have any of the cardinals behaved in indiscreet ways themselves? These questions would have been nearly unthinkable before l'affaire O'Brien. But every cardinal of voting age must now be asking themselves precisely these questions. And this must lead to very anxious moments.