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When Relativism Becomes Theology: The demise of Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien

Andrew Peyton Thomas

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A warning to all Christian leaders.

Depending on one's view of the world, the stunning fall of Thomas J. O'Brien, erstwhile Roman Catholic bishop of the diocese of Phoenix, was either an instance of divine justice meted out promptly on earth or a truly bizarre chain of events that precipitated his resignation and, now, conviction for felony hit-and-run. Beyond interpretation are the root and broader meaning of O'Brien's undoing. The same relativism O'Brien displayed in harboring pedophile priests for two decades governed his passions, and it was those passions that sealed his fate the night he struck a pedestrian with his vehicle and then fled. The self-service and atrocious judgment that marked O'Brien's actions as both man and bishop are perhaps the most striking example to date of the moral confusion that characterizes so many of the leaders implicated by the pedophile-priest scandal.

Convicted by a jury last Tuesday of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, O'Brien became the first Catholic bishop in recorded U.S. history to be found guilty of a felony. The case arose from an accident that occurred on the evening of June 14, 2003. O'Brien was driving home from a church function when an intoxicated pedestrian jaywalked in front of his vehicle. O'Brien's vehicle struck the victim, Jim Reed, with such force that Reed's body left an enormous crater in the right side of the windshield. Reed died at the scene. Had O'Brien stopped to render assistance, he almost certainly would not have faced any legal repercussions. But he did not. Instead, by his own account, O'Brien sped on home, ate some leftover pizza, and went to bed.

Read the entire article on the National Review Online website.

Posted: 2/24/04



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