EDINBURGH, Scotland — Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, has resigned amid allegations that he made homosexual advances to younger clergy in his diocese.
O’Brien, the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh since 1985, also said Monday he wouldn’t take part in the conclave to elect the next pope.
In a statement Monday, the Vatican said that Pope Benedict XVI had formally accepted O’Brien’s resignation — submitted back in November because he is due to turn 75 next month, the normal retirement age for bishops.
But simultaneously, O’Brien issued a statement Monday saying he would skip the conclave because he didn’t want to become the focus of media attention at such a delicate time for the church.
O’Brien has said through his spokesman that he is contesting allegations made Sunday in a British newspaper that three priests and a former priest have filed complaints to the Vatican alleging that the cardinal acted inappropriately with them.
The Observer newspaper did not name the priests, but it said their allegations date back to the 1980s. There were no details about the alleged inappropriate behavior.
O’Brien who has been the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh since 1985, has been an outspoken opponent of plans to legalize same-sex marriage in the United Kingdom, and was named “bigot of the year” by the British LGBT advocacy group Stonewall UK last November.
“We trust there will now be a full investigation into the serious allegations made against Cardinal O’Brien,” said Colin MacFarlane, director of Stonewall UK’s Scotland offices. “We hope his successor will show a little more Christian charity towards openly gay people than the cardinal did himself.”
In 2009, O’Brien urged the Scottish National Party to abandon plans to give same-sex couples the same foster-parenting rights as straight ones, calling the idea “misguided” and saying that gay and lesbians were known for unstable relationships.
In a Daily Telegraph editorial in 2012, the cardinal urged people to stand up against a proposal to allow same-sex marriage, which he called “madness.”
He referred to same-sex marriage as a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.”
O’Brien did not appear at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh to celebrate mass on Sunday, instead he was replaced by Bishop Stephen Robson, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, who made this statement at the cathedral:
“A number of allegations of inappropriate behavior have been made against the cardinal. The cardinal has sought legal advice and it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. There will be further statements in due course. As always in times of need such as this, we cannot not be saddened by the events of the last 24 hours.”
The four priests lodged their complaints in the week prior to Benedict announcing his resignation.
The former priest told the British press that O’Brien made an inappropriate approach to him in 1980, after night prayers, when he was a seminarian at St Andrew’s College.
The complainant, who is now married, says he resigned as a priest when Cardinal O’Brien was first made a bishop. He reportedly wrote in a statement, “I knew then he would always have power over me. It was assumed I left the priesthood to get married. I did not. I left to preserve my integrity.”
Article continues belowA second statement from another complainant said he was living in a parish when he was visited by O’Brien, and inappropriate contact took place between them.
A third complainant alleges dealing with what he describes as “unwanted behavior” by the cardinal in the 1980s after some late-night drinking. And the fourth complainant claims the cardinal used night prayers as an excuse for inappropriate contact.
O’Brien’s early resignation is believed to have been at the personal insistence of Benedict XVI, in one of his last acts as Pope.
O’Brien said in a statement that it was the Pope himself who had decided his resignation would take effect immediately.
O’Brien’s resignation comes on the heels of news reports that linked the resignation of Benedict XVI to the the contents of a secret dossier prepared for the pope by three cardinals who investigated the origins of the 2012 scandal over leaked Vatican documents.
The report suggested the revelations in the dossier included the discovery of blackmail, corruption and a network of gay prelates in the Vatican.