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Disgraced Scottish cardinal renounces his rank

March 20, 2015

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who resigned his post as Archbishop of Edinburgh in 2013 after admitting to sexual misconduct, has renounced his rights and privileges as a member of the College of Cardinals.

The Vatican announced on March 20 that the Scottish cardinal had voluntarily tendered his resignation “after a long period of prayer” and after a private meeting with Pope Francis. Cardinal O’Brien will continue to hold the title of cardinal, but will not exercise any of the privileges associated with that office.

Church officials in Scotland said that Cardinal O’Brien would continue to live privately, outside the country, although they left open the possibility that he might return to Scotland in his old age if he requires special care.

In renouncing his role in the College of Cardinals, the Scottish prelate took a highly unusual step. No cardinal has relinquished his red hat since 1927, when the French Cardinal Louis Billot resigned following a heated dispute with Pope Pius XI over the activities of Action Francais. More recently, in 1998, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër of Vienna, who had already retired at the age of 75, announced that he would “honor a request by the Holy Father to give up the duties I have been performing.” But while he lived out his remaining days quietly, Cardinal Groër—who had also been accused of sexual misconduct—remained a member of the College of Cardinals.

Cardinal O’Brien resigned in February 2013, following allegations that he had engaged in misconduct with seminarians and younger priests. He apologized for his behavior at that time, and chose not to participate in the conclave that elected Pope Francis.

In renouncing his privileges as a cardinal, the Scottish prelate thanked the Pope for his “fatherly care,” and issued a new apology:

I wish to repeat the apology which I made to the Catholic Church and the people of Scotland some two years ago now on March 3 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.

Archbishop Leo Cushley, who has succeeded Cardinal O’Brien in Edinburgh, welcomed the March 20 announcement, and urged his people to “embrace a spirit of forgiveness.” He said:

Cardinal O’Brien’s behavior distressed many, demoralized 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 behavior and also to the people of Scotland, especially the Catholic community.

Cardinal O’Brien met with Pope Francis after the Pontiff received a thorough report on an investigation into the charges against the Scottish cardinal. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who was once the Vatican’s top prosecutor for sex-abuse cases, had led the investigation. Church sources in Scotland had said that the information in the report was damaging to the cardinal. Archbishop Cushley had indicated that Pope Francis would make the final decision on the cardinal’s case.


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  • Posted by: shrink - Mar. 21, 2015 10:50 AM ET USA

    For much of his life, until now, O'Brien seems to have followed in the same sexual paths of Rembert Weakland. Glad to see that O'Brien is contrite. We are still waiting on Weakland, who is, evidently, a slow learner.