As it happened: Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigns

Key Points

  • Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, resigns as leader of the Scottish Catholic Church
  • It comes after newspaper reports that three priests and one ex-priest had complained about inappropriate behaviour towards them in the '80s
  • The Scottish Catholic Church says the cardinal, who is 74 and was due to retire in a few weeks, contests the claims and is taking legal advice

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    1100: Breaking News

    Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, is stepping down as the head of the Scottish Catholic Church.


    Cardinal O'Brien's decision follows allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards priests dating back to the 1980s. He contests the claims and is seeking legal action.


    The Vatican is expected shortly to confirm that Pope Benedict has accepted Cardinal O'Brien's decision.

    Cardinal Keith O'Brien

    Cardinal O'Brien is the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.


    The cardinal is not now expected to travel to Rome to take part in the election for a successor to the Pope - leaving Britain unrepresented in the election.


    BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott says the resignation of Cardinal O'Brien creates a crisis for the Church in Scotland, and represents a heavy blow to the wider Church as it battles to shore up its reputation ahead of the papal election or "conclave".


    The conclave is already expected to be difficult in the circumstances created by Pope Benedict's unprecedented resignation, our correspondent adds. The Vatican is also struggling to deal with reports of internal corruption and mismanagement.

    Cardinal Keith O'Brien

    The cardinal was due to retire when he reaches his 75th birthday in a few weeks


    Cardinal O'Brien's resignation is also a personal tragedy for himself, the BBC's Robert Pigott says. "He was about to retire after taking part as Britain's only representative in the papal election next month, a role he took extremely seriously. He said in a BBC interview on Friday that he found the responsibility of helping to choose a successor to Pope Benedict 'almost frightening'."


    In a profile, the Herald, Scotland says Cardinal Keith O'Brien has been no stranger to controversy since he was made a cardinal in 2003.


    Meanwhile churchgoers at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh told the Scotsman of their shock about the allegations against Cardinal O'Brien.


    The BBC's Robert Pigott says the cardinal's decision is understood to have been prompted by a concern to protect the Church from further destabilising speculation during the papal election already overshadowed by allegations against a number of the cardinals taking part in connection over their handling of the Church's sex abuse scandal.


    Cardinal O'Brien will be remembered in particular as a forthright defender - occasionally in outspoken and colourful terms - of Catholic teaching on abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality, our correspondent adds


    @BBCJamesCook: Cardinal Keith O'Brien 'continues to contest' the allegations against him and is stepping down so as 'not to distract' from the conclave.


    A statement from the Catholic Church says: "The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has accepted on the 18 February 2013 the resignation of His Eminence Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien from the pastoral governance of the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh."


    Cardinal Keith O'Brien, confirmed that he is to step down immediately, saying "The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today."

    1124: Breaking News

    Cardinal Keith O'Brien says in a statement after stepping down: "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."


    @BBCJamesCook tweets No answer at the home of Cardinal Keith O'Brien in Edinburgh this morning although smoke is rising from the chimney.

    Glenn Hall in Wales

    tweets: Presumably, with the exit of Cardinal O'Brian, the odds in favour of an African Pope improve.


    In his statement, Cardinal O'Brien adds: "I have valued the opportunity of serving the people of Scotland and overseas in various ways since becoming a priest."


    Cardinal O'Brien: "I thank Pope Benedict XVI for his kindness and courtesy to me and on my own behalf and on behalf of the people of Scotland, I wish him a long and happy retirement. I also ask God's blessing on my brother Cardinals who will soon gather in Rome to elect his successor."


    "I will not join them for this conclave in person. I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focussed on me - but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor. However, I will pray with them and for them that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they will make the correct choice for the future good of the Church," the cardinal adds.


    The cardinal's statement ends: "May God who has blessed me so often in my ministry continue to bless and help me in the years which remain for me on Earth and may he shower his blessings on all the peoples of Scotland especially those I was privileged to serve in a special way in the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh."

    Cardinal O'Brien

    Cardinal O'Brien did an interview with BBC Scotland last week in which he said it was clear many priests struggled to cope with celibacy, and should be able to marry and have children.


    Cardinal O'Brien had tendered his resignation in November 2012. It was accepted by the Pope but had not been due to take effect until March 17th. However, the Pope has now decided the resignation will take effect from today.

    Martin Conroy from Oldhamstocks, East Lothian

    emails: I am stunned, shocked and saddened by this news. The Cardinal is a wonderful man and was never afraid to stand up for what is right. He celebrated his last Mass at my church on Saturday. His last words to me were to keep carrying the flag. Now more than ever, that is what I and my fellow Catholics must do at this sad time for the Church.


    @BBCJamesCook tweets: Cardinal O'Brien will remain a member of the college of cardinals.


    @Alan_Wickham tweets: Cardinal Keith O'Brien has resigned as the head of the #Catholic church in Scotland. Thanks for your service! Great man & a great leader


    In the wake of Cardinal O'Brien's resignation, the Pope is to appoint an apostolic administrator to govern the archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh until a new archbishop is appointed.


    Cardinal O'Brien: "I will give every assistance to the apostolic administrator and to our new archbishop, once he is appointed, as I prepare to move into retirement."


    @BBCJamesCook tweets: Cardinal O'Brien's statement makes no direct reference to the allegations against him. It does not include a denial.


    @BBCJamesCook tweets: No denial and no mention of legal action in Cardinal O'Brien's statement but there is an apology to "all whom I have offended".

    Pope Benedict addressing crowds in St Peter's Square on Sunday

    Cardinal O'Brien's exit comes a day after the Pope addressed crowds in St Peter's Square at his final Sunday blessing. He resigned last week and will leave public life on Thursday.

    His resignation is unprecedented in modern times. And it means there is a vacancy at the very top of the Catholic Church and at the head of its Scottish congregation.


    @BBCJamesCook tweets: Cardinal O'Brien's chaplain, Monsignor Allan Chambers, has arrived at the former archbishop's house.


    The Scottish Catholic Media Office says: "Following the statement released by the Catholic Media Office today, there will be no further statements issued or interviews given."


    Jack Valero, a spokesman from Catholic Voices, told the BBC News Channel the end of Keith O'Brien's tenure represented a "new spirit" in the Church. But, he added, the allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards priests was "very serious" because it involved "breaking the vow of chastity".


    Mr Valero says the cardinal's departure at this point, days before Pope Benedict exits public life, means it will not cast a shadow over the coming election of the new Pope, but it also means no British Catholics will be involved in the vote.

    Terry Lavelle in Glasgow

    emails: What has prompted these 3 priests and the other who left the priesthood, to come out with these revelations after all these years, why were they not brought to light at the time, or were they, and were just swept under the carpet, so to speak?

    James Swinburne in Manchester

    emails: Whilst we're yet to see the outcome of these allegations, I have little pity for a man who has said some truly nasty things about the gay community. Religious belief or not, these views have no place in the UK in 2013. His comments will have hurt and offended many people and potentially perpetuated prejudice that exists within our society.


    @MarkoZoricNews tweets: Here is the word cloud of Cardinal O'Brien's resignation letter.


    A statement from Colin MacFarlane, director of gay rights group Stonewall Scotland, which last year named the cardinal as Bigot of the Year, says: "We trust there will be a full investigation into the serious allegations made against Cardinal Keith O'Brien. We hope that his successor will show a little more Christian charity towards openly gay people than the Cardinal did himself."


    Cardinal O'Brien did not attend Mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday following the allegations, which were published in the Observer. He had been due to celebrate eight years of Pope Benedict holding office.


    The cardinal, who was born in Ballycastle, Co Antrim, has been the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh since 1985. Ordained as a priest in 1965, he was proclaimed a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in October 2003.

    cardinal keith o'brien

    For more details of the cardinal's career, take a look at this BBC News website profile: Cardinal Keith O'Brien: A churchman with a strong voice.

    Duncan Macpherson, in Hampton, Middlesex

    emails: I think it is a scandal that his name can be blackened by accusers who remain anonymous.

    Jeremy Ross, Ashtead

    emails: Having a system which places men with a priestly vocation in a place where they deny their sexuality, whether it be heterosexual or homosexual is bound to create situations. This rule needs to be challenged by a new Pope alongside the fact that the priesthood is forbidden to women.

    Alexandra Meaden in the UK

    texts: Cardinal O'Brien is a good man who has been brought low by unnamed individuals whose allegations have yet to be scrutinised. My respect for him remains - and will always remain - undiminished.

    Tim Harper in the UK

    tweets: Deeply disturbing that Cardinal O'Brien has now resigned. Another sign of stuff swept under the carpet by the Vatican now oozing out?

    voting card

    Last week, Cardinal O'Brien showed the small brown voting card he would have used to choose the next Pope during the conclave at the Vatican. He was explaining his role in the election to the BBC's Glenn Campbell who interviewed him. Scotland's cardinal will not now travel to Rome to take part.


    Cardinal O'Brien has been an outspoken opponent of plans to legalise same-sex marriage and several days ago called for the Catholic Church to end its celibacy rule for the priesthood. He said that many priests struggled to cope with celibacy and should be allowed to marry if they wished.


    Peter McMahon, deputy editor of the Scotsman, tells BBC Radio Ulster: "It's a fascinating statement and unprecedented situation."

    James Nesbitt in London

    texts: Now O'Brien has resigned and Britain will not be represented by a British Catholic at the Conclave, surely Pope Benedict XVI should hold a early consistory to make sure numbers are even and Britain is represented.


    In a statement, Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond says: "It would be a great pity if a lifetime of positive work was lost from comment in the circumstances of his resignation. None of us know the outcome of the investigation into the claims made against him but I have found him to be a good man for his church and country."


    Mr Salmond's statement says he heard the news of Cardinal O'Brien's resignation with "greatest sadness". He says: "In all of my dealings with the cardinal, he has been a considerate and thoughtful leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, stalwart in his faith but constructive in his approach."


    Father Tony Flannery, of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland, says: "He has set a precedent by saying he is not fit to vote in the conclave. That puts enormous pressure on half a dozen other cardinals immediately."


    Fr Flannery tells BBC Radio Ulster the resignation of the cardinal represents the "beginnings of a frenzy in the Catholic Church".


    BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott says Cardinal O'Brien's loss is a "serious blow, especially for the Catholic Church in Scotland - a small Church in a small country" and always a "stout defender of Catholic orthodoxy".

    Barry W in Milton Keynes

    emails: I'm not a Catholic but it puzzles me as to why these allegations have been made now. The alleged offences (if they are indeed offences because we don't know what 'inappropriate behaviour' means) are said to date back to the 1980s. The complainants have had 30 years to come forward - so why now? Is this settling of old scores?


    Catherine Deveney, who wrote the story in the Observer about the alleged inappropriate behaviour by the cardinal, dating back to 1980, told BBC Scotland: "I thought this was an extremely important story." She says the cardinal has set a "moral blueprint" for the way that other people should lead their lives, but it was alleged he was not living up to that for himself.


    Catherine Deveney, commenting further on the Observer article on Sunday, says the four complainants against the cardinal are "men of integrity" who have "done a difficult thing and acted according to their conscience". She says: "It is very important that they are supported and the Church is seen to support them".


    The Scotsman's report on Cardinal O'Brien's resignation includes a profile of the cardinal's career.


    The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Kieran Conry, says he believes Cardinal O'Brien has acted in the best interest of the Catholic Church. "We can't risk any more suggestions of cover up or a lack of clarity."


    Here, in full, is a reminder of what the cardinal said about his resignation in a statement issued by the Scottish Catholic Church earlier.


    Pro-gay marriage compaigner Tom French, of the Equality Network, says: "We hope that the Catholic Church in Scotland will use the opportunity new leadership brings to reassess its opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality. The Catholic Church does a huge amount of good work on issues like poverty, and it's a shame that this important work is so often overshadowed by its position on issues of sexuality."


    The editor of Catholic Newspaper The Tablet, Catherine Pepinster, says members of the Church will be shocked. "This is a real, real blow for the Catholic Church in Scotland. And it's also a blow for Britain, that we don't have any representation in the elections of the next Pope."

    Cardinal Keith O'Brien

    Cardinal O'Brien had been due to retire on 17 March when he turns 75.

    press pack at cardinal o'brien's house

    BBC Scotland correspondent James Cook sent this photograph of the press pack outside Cardinal O'Brien's house in Edinburgh.


    In its profile on Cardinal O'Brien, the Guardian says he acquired a reputation for speaking his mind on homosexuality, abortion and secularism.

    Angela, Edinburgh

    emails: This is incredibly sad news for the Cardinal, the Church and for Scotland. Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien is an inspirational and charismatic leader. It is terrible that he has been put in this position by faceless accusers. I thank him for his wonderful vocation and for all that he is done for us over the years. He will always remain an inspiration.

    Patricia Hernandez, Edinburgh

    emails: Whilst there is no public awareness of what the allegations are there should be no speculation. Information is key to this situation. Cardinal O'Brien has been a breath of fresh air in the Catholic Church - a real man of the people and one of the reasons that Catholics throughout Scotland are now able to approach the church with any issues.


    Damian Thompson, in his Telegraph blog, says this is a shocking crisis for the Church.


    Scottish Conservative MSP @murdo_fraser tweets: Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigns. I am not a Catholic but his leadership will be missed

    George Haggarty, Broughty Ferry, Dundee

    emails: The timing of the allegations puzzles me but any allegations do need to be investigated. These issues should not diminish the respect and gratitude we have for Cardinal O'Brien and the leadership he has given the Catholic Church in Scotland though.


    Columnist Rosemary Goring writes in The Herald on "why the days when priests earned unthinking respect are long gone".


    From Rome, the BBC's world affairs correspondent James Robbins says there is now a "real sense of crisis" in the Vatican. Whereas it has for a long time been able to bat away criticism surrounding sex abuse allegations against other cardinals, these, he says, involving alleged behaviour towards other priests, bring the problems closer to the Vatican.

    John Shaw, Rotherham, South Yorkshire

    emails: Will Catherine Deveney now name the "men of integrity" mentioned in her comment or persuade them to identify themselves publicly. Will these four men now reveal what they mean by "inappropriate behaviour?" Will their be an investigation into their allegations?


    Mark Dowd, a Catholic writer and former Dominican friar, says "it's an extraordinary time to be a Catholic".


    Clifford Longley, a religious commentator and a columnist for Catholic newspaper The Tablet, says Cardinal O'Brien's early exit is "devastating". He says: "The worst thing that could possibly have happened to the Church at this moment is to have another row like this when there are already so many going on." He says the move heightens tensions in Rome enormously and the Cardinal's attempt to switch press attention away from himself ahead of the new Pope's election might be a miscalculation.


    Our live page coverage of the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien is drawing to a close, but you can keep up to date with any further developments during the afternoon in our news story.


    And here is a reminder of the profile of Cardinal O'Brien by BBC News.


    And, if you missed it earlier, here's another link to what the cardinal said about his resignation in a statement issued by the Scottish Catholic Church.


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