Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigns after claims of 'impropriety'
Scottish Catholic church 'in crisis' after resignation of Britain's most senior cleric
BRITAIN'S most senior Roman Catholic cleric, , has stepped down with immediate effect just a day after allegations of impropriety towards four priests surfaced.
The Cardinal denies the claims but says he is leaving his post early to avoid any distraction over the allegations, which date back 30 years.
In a statement released today, he apologised "for any failures", saying: "Looking back over my years of ministry, for any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended."
O'Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, was due to fly out to the Vatican this week as Britain's only representative in a papal election to help choose a successor to Pope Benedict. It would have been one of his last acts before retiring in March, when he turns 75.
Robert Pigott, the BBC's religious affairs correspondent, says the resignation will throw the Scottish Catholic Church into "crisis" and is a "heavy blow to the wider Church", while the Daily Telegraph's Damian Thompson writes that the next Pope must make it his priority to "restore confidence in the sexual probity of the Church".
On Sunday The Observer said that O'Brien, an outspoken critic of homosexuality, had been reported to the Vatican by three priests and one former priest after claims he had made inappropriate advances.
One complainant said O'Brien had approached him after night prayers in 1980 at St Andrew's College, Drygrange. In a statement he said he resigned from the Church after O'Brien was made a Bishop to preserve his "integrity".
Another priest said the Cardinal had approached him after a late-night drinking session.
Gay rights charity Stonewall, which last year named O'Brien Bigot Of The Year, called for a full investigation into the "serious allegations". The charity's director for Scotland, Colin MacFarlane, told The Guardian: "We hope that his successor will show a little more Christian charity towards openly gay people than the Cardinal did himself."