Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Pope confirms Cardinal O'Brien will play no further public church role

Keith O'Brien Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Cardinal O'Brien is understood to have been living outside of Scotland since resigning two years ago

Pope Francis has accepted a decision by Keith O'Brien to formally give up his rights and duties as a cardinal.

The disgraced Catholic clergyman will retain the title of cardinal but will be reduced to a strictly private life.

He will have no further participation in public, religious or civil events. He said he was deeply sorry for past behaviour.

Cardinal O'Brien said he would pray in his retirement for those he had offended.

He will not be allowed to take part in the election of any future Pope or be involved in the governance of the universal church, and will continue to live outside of Scotland.

What exactly can Keith O'Brien do and not do?

Image copyright Thinkstock
  1. The 77-year-old remains a priest and can celebrate Mass in his own home and take Holy Communion.
  2. He will not be able to take part in public, religious or civil events - that means he cannot officiate at weddings, baptisms or Requiem Masses.
  3. The ruling by the Pope means that Keith O'Brien will not be able to publicly administer sacraments, including the Last Rites.
  4. The clergyman will also be unable to hear public confessions.
  5. He will not be able to take part in the election of any future Pope, but he does retain his cardinal title and the red hat that goes with it.

Cardinal O'Brien was Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric before resigning as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh in 2013 after three priests and a former priest made allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour against him.

The incidents were alleged to have happened in the 1980s.

Cardinal O'Brien issued an apology at the time, saying "there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me".

In a statement released following the Pope's decision, Cardinal O'Brien said: "I wish to repeat the apology which I made to the Catholic Church and the people of Scotland some two years ago now on 3rd March 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.

"I thank Pope Francis for his fatherly care of me and of those I have offended in any way.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Pope Francis made his ruling after a private meeting with Cardinal O'Brien

"I will continue to play no part in the public life of the Church in Scotland; and will dedicate the rest of my life in retirement, praying especially for the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, for Scotland, and for those I have offended in any way".

Archbishop Leo Cushley, his successor in the St Andrews and Edinburgh archdiocese, said: "Cardinal O'Brien's behaviour distressed many, demoralised 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 behaviour and also to the people of Scotland, especially the Catholic community.

"For my own part, I would like to express sorrow and regret to those most distressed by the actions of my predecessor.

"I also pay tribute to those who had the courage to come forward to speak to Archbishop Scicluna.

"I hope now that all of us affected by this sad and regrettable episode will embrace a spirit of forgiveness, the only spirit that can heal any bitterness and hurt that still remains."

Private discussion

The announcement follows the decision by Pope Francis to send a personal envoy, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, on a fact-finding mission to Scotland last year.

Based upon that investigation - the content of which is fully known only to Pope Francis and Archbishop Scicluna - Pope Francis has reached his canonical conclusion.

Cardinal O'Brien's decision followed a private discussion with Pope Francis.

The Catholic church said this was preceded by a period of prayer and penance in order to allow the cardinal to reflect upon his misconduct.

According to Canon Law, the Pope is the only person who can investigate or discipline a member of the College of Cardinals.

Cardinal O'Brien is still a priest and, thus, says mass privately in his own home and has done so since stepping down as Archbishop in 2013.

Following Friday's decision by Pope Francis, Cardinal O'Brien will have no public ministry and so will not say public mass, hear public confessions nor publicly administer other sacraments.

That means he will not officiate at weddings, funerals or baptisms.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites