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
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
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
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
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
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
"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."