Pope Francis has removed the rights and privileges of the former head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, two years after he resigned admitting sexual misconduct with young priests decades ago.
The Vatican said on Friday that O’Brien, once Britain’s most senior cleric, will retain the title of cardinal but no longer advise the pope or take part in conclaves to elect a new leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
O’Brien quit as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in 2013 shortly after Francis’s predecessor Benedict shocked the Catholic world with his own resignation.
He promised to play no further public role in the Church in Scotland and did not take part in the conclave that elected Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the new pontiff.
The Vatican said the pope’s ruling was made at the cardinal’s request. O’Brien initially denied accusations of misconduct by three priests and one former priest but later admitted that “my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”
The Vatican conducted an investigation into the case which, according to one of O’Brien’s accusers quoted by the London Catholic weekly The Tablet, was “hot enough to burn the varnish” off the pope’s desk.
O’Brien, who spoke out fiercely against homosexuals during his career, repeated the apology he made when he resigned and said: “I thank Pope Francis for his fatherly care of me and for those I have offended in any way.”
His statement, posted on the website of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, said he would spend the rest of his life in retirement and prayer.
The Catholic Church in Scotland welcomed the decision, but SNAP, a group of victims of clerical sexual abuse, said the ruling came late and did not go far enough.
“[W]hat of his clerical colleagues? Not one of them knew or suspected that O’Brien was abusing others? That’s pretty hard to believe,” SNAP said in a statement.
After resigning, O’Brien left Scotland for a period of penance, becoming the most prominent churchman to withdraw in disgrace over sexual abuse since Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ order, was ordered to retire in 2006 after being found to have abused seminarians and young men.
Archbishop Leo Cushley, who succeeded O’Brien at the Scottish diocese, said his predecessor’s actions “distressed many, demoralized faithful Catholics and made the Church less credible to those who are not Catholic.”