Benjamin Reeves | March 4 2013 11:50 EST
Yet again the Roman Catholic Church is facing a sex scandal, this time involving Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the top man in the Scottish Catholic Church, who admitted on Sunday that his "sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal." Cardinal O'Brien has resigned his post as a result of four anonymous accusations that he used his office to solicit gay sex from four priests and seminarians. The accusations will likely further increase the pressure on the conclave electing a new Pope following Pope Benedict XVI's resignation.
Rumors about some kind of cover-up or new sex scandal have arisen since Pope Benedict XVI's resignation announcement, although there is nothing directly linking Cardinal O'Brien's admission to the Pope's resignation. However, the latest sex scandal will nevertheless have an effect on the conclave to elect the next Pope -- Cardinal O'Brien has resigned his post and will not attend the conclave as a result.
According to the U.K. newspaper The Observer, the four unnamed accusers brought their charges to the papal nuncio on Feb. 8 or 9 and Pope Benedict XVI resigned on Feb. 11. However, Cardinal O'Brien remained in office until this past weekend, although many Vatican observers have assumed that he was pushed out by Benedict XVI sometime during his last weeks as Pope. Cardinal O'Brien's last major statement to the public before he announced his resignation was a call for the Catholic Church to reconsider its rules about priestly celibacy.
Cardinal O'Brien's admission that had gay sex with other priests comes as a particular shock given his years of harshly condemning homosexuality. Priests within the Scottish Catholic Church who informed Observer reporter Catherine Deveney about the sexual misconduct also said that there is a "gay culture" within the church, but that it is not open or out in any way. Cardinal O'Brien's actions not only violated the celibacy vows taken by Catholic priests, but he also allegedly used his high office to pressure and take advantage of his subordinates. However, it is unclear whether the Church and Pope Benedict XVI pressured Cardinal O'Brien to resign because of the sex scandal or because of his words against celibacy in the church.
As Cardinal, O'Brien frequently railed against homosexuality, virulently attacking it as a "grotesque subversion" according to the New York Times. The news that Cardinal O'Brien had been involved in various homosexual affairs since at least the 1980s, despite his conservative views towards homosexuality, has caused further outcry against the Catholic Church which has been dealing for years with the fall-out from various child sex abuse scandals, particularly in the Irish Catholic Church. Cardinal O'Brien's resignation will consequently raise the stakes even higher for conclave to elect a new Pope. The pressure will be on the attending Cardinals to select a new Pope who will be seen as capable of dealing decisively with sexual scandals in the church and possibly reforming and modernizing some of its policies towards celibacy or homosexuality.
In resigning, Cardinal O'Brien apologized to the Scottish Catholic Church and said that he will immediately go into retirement. His statement also indicated that he had left the country and would be incommunicado for the foreseeable future. It took just 36 hours from the publication of the accusations against Cardinal O'Brien for him to resign his office.
The following is the full text of Cardinal O'Brien's resignation statement:
"In recent days certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. 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. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland."
Members of the press wait outside Cardinal Keith O'Brien's home in Edinburgh as news of his resignation came to light last week. Courtest Wikimedia Commons.