Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, is stepping down as leader of the Scottish Catholic Church.
It follows claims, which he contests, of inappropriate behaviour towards priests dating back to the 1980s.
In a statement, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh apologised to those he had offended for “failures” during his ministry.
The cardinal also confirmed he would not take part in the papal election.
This means Britain will be unrepresented in the election of a new pontiff. The Vatican confirmed the cardinal has stepped down from his post.
The Scottish Catholic Media Office said Pope Benedict had accepted the cardinal’s resignation on 18 February, but the announcement of it has only just been made.
Cardinal O’Brien said in his statement he had already tendered his resignation as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, due to take effect when he turned 75 next month, but Pope Benedict “has now decided that my resignation will take effect today”.
Cardinal O’Brien’s full statement can be read here.
The UK Guardian reports on the accusations against O’Brien:
Three priests and a former priest in Scotland have reported the most senior Catholic clergyman in Britain, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, to the Vatican over allegations of inappropriate behaviour stretching back 30 years.
The four, from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, have complained to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain, and demanded O’Brien’s immediate resignation. A spokesman for the cardinal said that the claims were contested.
O’Brien, who is due to retire next month, has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights, condemning homosexuality as immoral, opposing gay adoption, and most recently arguing that same-sex marriages would be “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved”. Last year he was named “bigot of the year” by the gay rights charity Stonewall.
The Telegraph’s Damian Thompson laments, “There will now be no Briton in the Sistine Chapel when voting takes place”:
Watch out for real fireworks in Scotland, where tribal Catholicism is dying off. Cardinal O’Brien was a firebrand on the subject of gay sex and the unsuitability of homosexuals for clerical office; his counterpart in Glasgow, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, is even more outspoken, recently suggesting that a Scottish MP’s death was hastened by his homosexuality.
If the charges against O’Brien have any substance to them, then the public credibility of the Scottish Catholic Church will collapse. And the rejoicing of the enemies of conservative Catholicism, who are especially vocal in Scotland, will be deafening.