University could be set to strip cardinal of honorary degree

Cardinal Keith O'Brien
Cardinal Keith O'Brien

St Andrews University could be preparing to take the unprecedented step of revoking an Honorary Degree.

It is understood that attempts will be made this week to have Scotland’s disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the former Archbishop of Edinburgh and St Andrews, stripped of the doctorate in divinity which he received in 2004, a year after he became head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland.

St Andrews University’s Senate business committee, chaired by the Principal, Dr Louise Richardson, is expected to consider whether to rescind the degree when it meets later this week.

Following his resignation in March this year, Cardinal O’Brien apologised to the “Catholic Church and the people of Scotland” and said his sexual conduct had fallen below the required standards.

Although he formally resigned the role of Cardinal, O’Brien kept his title but was ordered by Pope Francis to live a strictly private life of prayer and penance and is banned from taking part in any future public, religious or civil events.

It is understood he has been living in effective exile in the north of England under arrangements agreed by the Vatican which bars him from setting foot in Scotland.

In 2012 St Andrews Students’ Association called for the University to withdraw the honorary degree bestowed upon former RBS boss Fred Goodwin, who was stripped of his knighthood.

Howevever the University refused, stating it would not be making the “precipitate gesture” of revoking the degree.

At the time a spokesperson said: “Fred Goodwin was given an honorary degree in good faith by the university in 2004, shortly after he had been knighted.

“Clearly a great deal has changed since that time. The University is sensitive to the varied opinions expressed about Mr Goodwin’s part in the collapse of RBS and its damaging effects on the economy and the lives of many thousands of people.

“Revoking the degree, however, cannot change history, nor ameliorate the harm done by the banking collapse.”

In 2007 Edinburgh University annulled the honorary degree it awarded Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe in 1984 for ‘services to education in Africa’, and following the Jimmy Savile scandal the University of Bedfordshire posthumously revoked the Doctorate of Arts it had awarded him for ‘lifelong support of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital’.

The University of St Andrews Senate is the supreme academic body under the presidency of the Principal. Its business committee comprises the Principal, the Proctor, the Provost, the Deans of Arts and Divinity, Medicine and Science as well as the president of the Students’ Association. Its reponsibilities include electing names for the award of Honorary Degrees and the University Medal in accordance with regulations published as part of the standing orders of Senate.