Pope revokes rights of Cardinal Keith O’Brien

Keith O'Brien on his appointment as cardinal. Pic: Ian Rutherford
Keith O'Brien on his appointment as cardinal. Pic: Ian Rutherford
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DISGRACED Cardinal Keith O’Brien has again apologised for his “sexual conduct” after formally resigning from his role at a meeting with Pope Francis.

Cardinal O’Brien, 77, stepped down from the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh in February 2013 after three priests and a former priest made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him.

At the time, he issued an apology saying “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me”.

He left Scotland and said he would play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in the country.

He will retain the title of cardinal, the Church said, but has now been formally stripped of the “rights and duties” of the role after an investigation.

In a statement he said: “I wish to repeat the apology which I made to the Catholic Church and the people of Scotland some two years ago now on 3 March 2013. I then said that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me. For that, I am deeply sorry. I thank Pope Francis for his fatherly care of me and of those I have offended in any way.

“I will continue to play no part in the public life of the Church in Scotland; and will dedicate the rest of my life in retirement, praying especially for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, for Scotland, and for those I have offended in any way”.

The cardinal has spent the past two years in exile for “the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer and penitence” and is currently living at his private residence in Ellington near Newcastle with no plans to return to Scotland.

It is understood that he can celebrate mass in his own home and take holy communion but cannot officiate at public events such as weddings or baptisms or administer sacraments such as the last rites. He will also be unable to hear confessions from members of the public.

The Most Rev Leo Cushley, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, referred to the controversy as a “sad and regrettable episode” and said: “As most people are aware, Pope Francis is a good and prayerful man whose character embodies justice and mercy. I am confident therefore that the decision of the Holy Father is fair, equitable and proportionate.

“Cardinal O’Brien’s behaviour distressed many, demoralised faithful Catholics and made the Church less credible to those who are not Catholic. I therefore acknowledge and welcome his apology to those affected by his behaviour and also to the people of Scotland, especially the Catholic community.”

A report on the allegations regarding Cardinal O’Brien was submitted to Pope Francis last week. This followed his decision to send a personal envoy, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, on a fact-finding mission to Scotland last year.

Based on that investigation – the content of which is fully known only to Pope Francis and Archbishop Scicluna – the pontiff summoned Cardinal O’Brien to Rome and, following a private discussion, the cardinal decided to offer his resignation.

According to Canon Law, the Pope is the only person who can investigate or discipline a member of the College of Cardinals.

Archbishop Cushley added: “For my own part, I would like to express sorrow and regret to those most distressed by the actions of my predecessor.

“I also pay tribute to those who had the courage to come forward to speak to Archbishop Scicluna. I hope now that all of us affected by this sad and regrettable episode will embrace a spirit of forgiveness, the only spirit that can heal any bitterness and hurt that still remains.”

Following the announcement of his resignation, calls have been made to strip him of an honorary degree bestowed by St Andrews University in 2004.

In a letter to The Scotsman today, St Andrews economics professor Dr Manfredi La Manna wonders whether the institution should follow such a course.

He writes: “I, for one, would not recognise as a colleague someone who admitted abusing his position of power for sexual gratification with subordinates.”

It was in February 2013 as Cardinal O’Brien was preparing to leave for Rome and the conclave that would elect Pope Francis, that a number of priests went public with allegations of sexual misconduct

He did not attend the conclave and resigned shortly before it was convened.