The Associated Press
LONDON — A Scottish cardinal on Sunday acknowledged having engaged in unspecified sexual misbehavior, apologized for his actions and promised to stay out of the church’s public life in a statement that comes at an awkward time for the Vatican.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien had been Britain’s highest-ranking Catholic leader until he resigned Monday from his position as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, a departure prompted by a newspaper report about unnamed priests’ allegations that he acted inappropriately toward them.
O’Brien initially rejected the claims, saying he was resigning because he did not want to distract from the upcoming conclave of cardinals that will pick a successor to Benedict XVI. O’Brien also became the first cardinal to recuse himself from the conclave because of personal scandal.
On Sunday, the Catholic Church in Scotland issued a statement quoting O’Brien as saying that there had been times “that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”
“To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness,” the statement said. “To the Catholic church and people of Scotland, I also apologize. I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland.”
O’Brien gave no clue as to what exactly his sexual misbehavior consisted of, but his statement is another reminder of the church’s struggle to shake off a litany of sex scandals, including those involving pedophile priests.
The claims against O’Brien were first reported by The Observer newspaper.
In its Feb. 24 edition, the British newspaper reported that O’Brien was alleged to have made what it described as “an inappropriate approach” to a seminarian after night prayers.
The paper said another priest had reported “inappropriate contact” with O’Brien after a visit to his parish, and a second priest had reported “unwanted behavior” by the archbishop after a late-night drinking session. A third had reported being taken advantage of when he went to the archbishop for counseling.
All four, the paper said, had sent a letter of complaint to papal nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain, early last month.
The paper did not cite a source for its reporting, but in this Sunday’s edition it quoted the still-unnamed former seminarian as saying that the church had failed to respond quickly and appropriately to his complaint.
O’Brien has at times had a rocky tenure as a cardinal.
In 2003, he was forced to issue a public pledge to defend church teaching on homosexuality, celibacy and contraception. He was pressured to make the pledge after he had called for a “full and open discussion” on such matters.
Cardinals begin conclave talks
The cardinals meeting to choose the next pope started work Monday on planning their conclave. Benedict XVI remained holed up at the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo, his temporary retirement home while cardinals pick his successor.
And in a sartorial symbol of the impending transition, a tailor on Monday unveiled three new white papal cassocks — small, medium and large — that will be sent to the Vatican so the new pope has something to wear as soon as he’s elected.
“We need to deliver these three garments before the conclave starts because obviously we cannot enter inside the conclave once it starts,” tailor Lorenzo Gammarelli said Monday.
Of the 115 cardinals who can vote, 103 were on hand for Monday’s inaugural pre-conclave meeting, which over the coming days will discuss the problems of the church and give the cardinals a chance to get to know one another better.
And so they prayed together, chatted over coffee and 13 of them intervened to discuss organizational matters.
The fact that 12 more cardinals are still en route to Rome will mean a delay in setting a date for the conclave since the dean of the College of Cardinals has said a date won’t be finalized until all the cardinals have arrived.
Among the first orders of business was the oath of secrecy each cardinal made, pledging to maintain “rigorous secrecy with regard to all matters in any way related to the election of the Roman Pontiff.”
The cardinals then agreed to send Benedict XVI a message on behalf of the group; the text was being worked on, the Vatican said.
The core agenda item is to set the date for the conclave and put in place the procedures to prepare for it, including closing the Sistine Chapel to visitors and getting the Vatican hotel cleared out and de-bugged, lest anyone try to listen in on the secret conversations.