CARDINAL Keith O’Brien dramatically broke his silence last night to admit sexual misconduct during his career with the Roman Catholic Church.
• Cardinal Keith O’Brien admits sexual misconduct in statement
• Comments come in wake of allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour from four priests
• Cardinal O’Brien also announces retirement from public life of Catholic Church
The former archbishop and leader of the Church in Scotland said there had been times when his behaviour had “fallen below the standards expected” of a priest, archbishop and cardinal.
His admission came a week to the day after allegations by three serving priests and one retired priest that Cardinal O’Brien had behaved inappropriately towards them during the 1980s were first made public.
In a brief but frank statement, the former Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh apologised and asked forgiveness from those he had “offended”.
He added that he would play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland.
The statement also revealed that Cardinal O’Brien has left the country.
The statement was issued as the former priest who made allegations yesterday spoke of his disappointment at the “cold disapproval” he has faced from the Church for “daring to break ranks” and report what until now had been described as “inappropriate behaviour”.
The cardinal had until last night contested the claims. But while he made no detailed admissions in his statement last night, he effectively admitted he had been guilty of sexual misconduct in the eyes of the Church.
“In recent days, certain allegations which have been made against me have become public,” Cardinal O’Brien said in the statement, issued through the Scottish Catholic Media Office.
“Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them. However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have 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 apologise and ask forgiveness. To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologise.
“I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement”, he said. “I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland.”
Last Monday, it was announced he would resign his post as archbishop with immediate effect and would not take part in the papal conclave this month to elect a new pope.
The move came a day after it was reported that three priests and a former priest had complained about him to the Vatican over alleged “inappropriate” behaviour stretching back 30 years.
The cardinal, who was initially said to be taking legal advice when the allegations against him emerged, had been due to retire later this month, when he turned 75.
Entrepreneur Sir Tom Farmer, a close friend, said it had been a difficult week for both cardinal O’Brien and for many Scots.
“Like so maybe other people in Scotland I’ve been very saddened at this whole affair,” he added.
Margo MacDonald, the independent Lothians MSP, also a friend of the cardinal, added: “I’m saddened to think of all the good work that the cardinal did, and the kindness he showed, could have come to an end such as this.
“That he should end his career in such a way. He was my friend, is my friend and remains my friend.”
Professor Tom Devine, a leading historian from University of Edinburgh, said the mood among many Catholics would be one of “anger and a deep sense of betrayal”.
“In the meantime, the faithful in Scotland owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the priests and former priest who had the personal courage to bring all this into the public domain,” he added. “The pain caused by this episode will be profound, but better that than concealing the truth.”
Alex Salmond last week said he heard of the resignation with “the greatest sadness”, and appeared to issue support for the cardinal when he said “it would be a great pity if a lifetime of positive work was lost from comment in the circumstances of his resignation.”
The First Minister’s office, however, declined comment further last night when contacted by The Scotsman.
Liz Leydon, editor of the Scottish Catholic Observer, said the decision by Cardinal O’Brien to admit wrongdoing and to apologise in difficult circumstances would have taken courage.
“We would like to thank Cardinal Keith O’Brien for his leadership, and courageous action today in apologising and retiring from the public life of the Church in light of recent investigations into misconduct allegations”, she said.
“I once again offer my prayers and support to everyone affected by the situation.”
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, who has been appointed apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, told those gathered at St Mary’s Cathedral last week that he understood the archdiocese was in a “state of shock for the loss of its shepherd”.
The original report of the allegations against the cardinal, who was Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric, quoted one of the complainants, a former seminarian at St Andrew’s College, Drygrange, where Cardinal O’Brien served as spiritual director between 1978 and 1980.
The former priest, who is now married, said he resigned from the priesthood when Cardinal O’Brien was appointed a bishop. He said in his 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.”
Yesterday, the former priest, who has not been named, spoke of his belief that the Church would “crush” him if they could for breaking his silence.
“There have been two sensations for me this week,” he said. “One is feeling the hot breath of the media on the back of my neck and the other is sensing the cold disapproval of the Church hierarchy for daring to break ranks.”