UPDATE: In the wake of accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior, Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned today as archbishop Edinburgh, and said he does not plan to come to Rome for the March conclave to avoid creating a media diversion during the election of a new pope.
The Vatican said yesterday that Pope Benedict has been informed about allegations that the cardinal had engaged in inappropriate sexual acts, and was deciding what to do about it.
The allegations, which date to the 1980s, came to light in newspaper reports today in Great Britain. Cardinal O’Brien was among the cardinals expected to arrive in Rome at the end of next week for Pope Benedict’s resignation and an upcoming conclave.
“The pope is informed about the problem and the issue is now in his hands,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Sunday.
Cardinal O’Brien, 74, the archbishop of Edinburgh, has denied the allegations, which were reported to the Vatican by three priests and a former priest. According to British press reports, the complainants contacted the papal nuncio in Britain the week before Pope Benedict announced his resignation.
The press reports said the allegations concerned inappropriate contact and approaches when O’Brien was a seminary rector in Aberdeen some 30 years ago.
The issue of sex abuse has already prompted criticism of U.S. Cardinal Roger Mahony, after he announced he intended to come to Rome to participate in the upcoming conclave. Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, recently had limits placed on his public role in the archdiocese for failing to protect children from clergy sex abuse.
The allegations against Cardinal O’Brien are of a different nature — inappropriate sexual acts, not covering up alleged abuse — and the consequences could be different, too.
Experts I spoke with said a pope can remove a cardinal from the College of Cardinals for grave reasons, but added that in this case the cardinal has contested the accusations, and it’s unlikely that a serious investigation could be completed before papal resignation on Feb. 28.