Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, is stepping down as the Archbishop of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh.
It follows allegations – which he contests – of inappropriate behaviour towards priests dating from the 1980s.
The Vatican is expected to confirm Pope Benedict has accepted his resignation.
The cardinal is not now expected to take part in the election for a successor to the Pope – leaving Britain unrepresented in the election.
Cardinal O’Brien missed celebrating Sunday Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, which marked Pope Benedict’s eight years in office, ahead of the pontiff stepping down this week.
The resignation of Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric in the wake of allegations of improper behaviour creates a crisis for the Church in Scotland, and represents a heavy blow to the wider Church as it battles to shore up its reputation ahead of the papal election or “conclave”.
The Catholic Herald confirms that the pope has accepted the cardinal’s resignation and that he will not take part in the papal conclave.
The BBC, in its live feed, notes that O’Brien has denied the allegations. The New York Times reports:
Cardinal O’Brien had been scheduled to lead a Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday morning, an occasion dedicated to a celebration of Benedict’s time in the papacy. But he did not appear for the Mass. Instead, a statement was made on his behalf by Bishop Stephen Robson, an auxiliary prelate in the Edinburgh diocese.
“A number of allegations of inappropriate behavior have been made against the cardinal,” the church statement said. “The cardinal has sought legal advice, and it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. There will be further statements in due course.”
“Approaching the age of seventy-five and at times in indifferent health, I tendered my resignation as Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh to Pope Benedict XVI some months ago. I was happy to know that he accepted my resignation ‘nunc pro tunc’ – (now – but to take effect later) on 13 November 2012. The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today, 25 February 2013, and that he will appoint an Apostolic Administrator to govern the Archdiocese in my place until my successor as Archbishop is appointed. In the meantime I will give every assistance to the Apostolic Administrator and to our new Archbishop, once he is appointed, as I prepare to move into retirement.I have valued the opportunity of serving the people of Scotland and overseas in various ways since becoming a priest. Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended
I thank Pope Benedict XVI for his kindness and courtesy to me and on my own behalf and on behalf of the people of Scotland, I wish him a long and happy retirement. I also ask God’s blessing on my brother Cardinals who will soon gather in Rome to elect his successor. I will not join them for this Conclave in person. I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focussed 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.
May God who has blessed me so often in my ministry continue to bless and help me in the years which remain for me on earth and may he shower his blessings on all the peoples of Scotland especially those I was privileged to serve in a special way in the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh.”
Writes Damien Thompson:
The Cardinal denies the allegations, whose publication has been carefully timed – but his decision will remind the cardinals meeting in Rome next month that allegations against its clergy have now permeated the entire institution.
The next Pope’s first priority must be to restore confidence in the sexual probity of the Church. Who on earth is going to be able to do that?
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.