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O’Brien ‘unaware’ of accusers

01 March 2013


In seclusion: Cardinal O'Brien looks out of the window of his Edinburgh home

In seclusion: Cardinal O'Brien looks out of the window of his Edinburgh home

THE most senior Roman Catholic cleric in Britain, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who stood down on Monday after allegations of "inappropriate" acts were published in a Sunday newspaper, is said to be "unaware of who his accusers are, and exactly what they claim he did".

A colleague of the former Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh, quoted by the BBC on Tuesday, likened him to a "vulnerable adult" who was "very upset" over the circumstances of his resignation.

In a farewell statement, published on Monday, Cardinal O'Brien, said: "For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended." A spokesman said that he was contesting the allegations.

As is customary, Cardinal O'Brien presented his resignation last November. His 75th birthday falls on 17 March this year. It was accepted by the Pope nunc pro tunc ("now for later"). But on Monday the Cardinal said: "The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today."

Although eligible, he said he had decided not to join the other cardinals in Rome for the conclave. "I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me - but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor."

On Sunday, The Observer reported that three priests and a former priest in Scotland had reported Cardinal O'Brien to the Vatican over allegations of "inappropriate behaviour" dating back to the 1980s. They complained to the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the week before the Pope's resignation on 11 February, and demanded Cardinal O'Brien's immediate resignation.

It is thought that the Cardinal's presentation of his resignation in November was the trigger for the allegations: the priests wished to ensure that action was taken before he stood down. The leaking of the allegations appears to have been prompted by the Pope's resignation and the prospect of the conclave.

One of the complainants, The Observer reports, claims that the cardinal "developed an inappropriate relationship with him, resulting in the need for long-term psychological counselling".

One of the serving priests alleges that the Cardinal visited him in his parish, where "inappropriate contact" between the two took place. Another alleges "unwanted behaviour" by the Cardinal after a late-night drinking session at the Archbishop's residence. The third alleges that the Cardinal used night prayers "as an excuse for inappropriate contact".

On Tuesday, the Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, said that Cardinal O'Brien's resignation was "up to his own conscience". He was not forced, or even asked, to step down, he said.

Asked about his own reaction, he said: "I think it has been very sad, and I think that what has happened both for him and the Church of Scotland has been very damaging." He described Cardinal O'Brien as "a very honest man". A senior bishop will be appointed an as apostolic administrator for the diocese, and "part of his job will be to examine the allegations".

Writing in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, Professor Tom Devine, Senior Research Professor in History at the University of Edinburgh, described the situation as "probably the gravest single public crisis to hit the Catholic Church in Scotland since the Reformation, and its effects in the short term are incalculable".

On Monday, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, said: "Cardinal Keith O'Brien has served his Church and the people of Scotland faithfully over many years, and it is with sadness that we note his resignation and the circumstances surrounding his announcement."

The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, said: "It would be a great pity if a lifetime of positive work was lost from comment in the circumstances of his resignation. . . I have found him to be a good man for his Church and country."

Update: On 3 March, Cardinal O'Brien issued the following statement: "In recent days, certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them.

"However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop, and cardinal.

"To those I have offended, I apologise and ask forgiveness. To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologise. I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland."

Leader comment
Paul Vallely

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