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Amid press allegations, Pope brings forward Cardinal’s retirement

25 February 2013


On the spot: Cardinal O'Brien attends a Mass celebrated by the Pope in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, in February, 2012

On the spot: Cardinal O'Brien attends a Mass celebrated by the Pope in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, in February, 2012

THE resignation of the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in Britain, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, will take effect today, after allegations from priests that he perpetrated "inappropriate acts" were published in a Sunday newspaper.

In a statement published today, the RC Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh, Cardinal O'Brien, said: "For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended."

He first presented his resignation last November in view of his 75th birthday on 17 March this year, and it was accepted by the Pope nunc pro tunc ("now for later"). Today, the Cardinal said: "The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today."

He will not join the other cardinals in Rome for the conclave to elect the new Pope "in person". He said: "I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me - but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor. However, I will pray with them and for them that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they will make the correct choice for the future good of the Church."

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. A spokesman for the Cardinal said that the allegations were contested.

It is understood that the former priest, who is now married, alleges that Cardinal O'Brien, who was his spiritual director at St Andrew's College, Drygrange, made an "inappropriate approach after night prayers". He resigned when O'Brien was elevated to the episcopate: "I left to preserve my integrity."

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

Last Friday, in an interview with BBC Scotland, Cardinal O'Brien said that he believed that priests should be able to marry. While some issues were "basic dogmatic beliefs" of "divine origin", others were open to discussion: "I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own."

Cardinal O'Brien has been an outspoken critic of gay marriage, describing it as "a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right" ( News, 9 March).

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