Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric, is expected to face a Vatican inquiry after admitting his sexual conduct had at times “fallen beneath the standards expected at the time.”
Cardinal O’Brien resigned from his position on 25 February amid accusations of inappropriate conduct.
He is temporarily replaced by Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, until a permanent appointment is made.
He tendered his resignation some time ago, but the Vatican retained the power to decide when it would take effect.
Three active and one former priest from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh reportedly lodged complaints to the Pope’s representative in Britain, nuncio Antonia Mennini.
Allegations included incidents of “inappropriate approach and contact” and “unwanted behaviour”, which mainly happened in the 1980s.
In response to these allegations, O’Brien said that he was “very upset” and “doesn’t know who his accusers are and doesn’t know what they’re accusing him of.”
The Scottish Catholic Media Office (SCMO) stressed that the resignation was tendered last November, and he was already due to retire on 17 March 2013on his 75th birthday. The report from SCMO did not mention the allegations against O’Brien. Instead, it cited age and health issues as reasons for his resignation.
O’Brien sought legal advice but has since admitted to inappropriate behaviour. From his statement on the SCMO, he said: “I have valued the opportunity of serving the people of Scotland and overseas… For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended”
He will not be taking part in the election of the new pope, saying: “I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me – but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor.”
This happened in the wake of the resignation of Pope Benedict, which itself had led to issues of church abuses being raised. Some have speculated that the general image of the Roman Catholic Church is being undermined by scandals involving inappropriate clerical behaviour, especially those involving children.
Tom Devine, a professor of Scottish history at Edinburgh University, wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “This is probably the gravest single public crisis to hit the Catholic Church in Scotland since the Reformation.”
Professor John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews, described the incident as a “turning point” for the Church.
In a BBC report, Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, said: “None of us know the outcome of the investigation into the claims made against him but I have found him to be a good man for his church and country.”
O’Brien himself was a controversial figure even before this incident happened. He was an outspoken critic of homosexuality and once said that gay marriage was a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right.” His controversial views earned him the title, Bigot of the Year in 2012 by Stonewall Scotland, a gay rights advocacy group.
In April, 2012, he visited the University of St Andrews to give a sermon at St Salvator’s, a move that sparked widespread student protests.
The LGBT Society organised a silent protest outside the chapel, which was attended by almost one hundred students wearing coloured shirts.
The Society declined to comment on O’Brien’s resignation, nor on the allegations that were made against him. They stressed that their protest was directed against his words, and not his character. They hope that his public apology “brings comfort to those who were offended by his comments.”