BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — The New York Times reports that Britain's most senior Catholic leader has resigned in the midst of allegations of "inappropriate acts" with priests and will not be attending the conclave to select a new pope.
According to the UK's Guardian, three priests and a former priest submitted statements to the Vatican indicating that Cardinal Keith O'Brien, a vocal opponent of gay rights, engaged in the alleged behaviour "stretching back 30 years." The report says the first allegation against O'Brien dates back to 1980. That complainant, who is now married, was a seminarian at St Andrew's College, where O'Brien allegedly "made an inappropriate approach after night prayers."
Other complainants' statements also spoke to "unwanted behaviour" or "inappropriate contact."
The statements were submitted the week before Pope Benedict XVI's Feb 11 resignation, according to the report, which says the four were reluctant to bring the allegations forward and were concerned the church would ignore their complaints. They reportedly want the conclave that elects the new pope to be "clean" and called for O'Brien's resignation. According to canon law, no cardinal who is eligible to vote can be prevented from doing so.
O'Brien reportedly submitted his resignation months ago, but the timing of the announcement, following the allegations of impropriety, suggests that the Vatican put pressure on the cardinal to stay away from the conclave, The New York Times says.
There were mixed reactions to the announcement. Some were upset that the cardinal had been brought down by unnamed accusers whose allegations have not been tested in a tribunal or court. Others expressed little sympathy for a cleric whose anti-gay comments offended, and according to one commenter, "potentially perpetuated prejudice."
In his annual message of peace in December, Benedict said that attempts to grant gay unions the same status as marriage between men and women "actually harm and help to destabilize marriage, obscuring its specific nature and its indispensable role in society."
In a recent interview with BBC Scotland, O'Brien echoed the pope's sentiments about gay marriage but said he felt priests should be allowed to get married if they wish to.
"For example, the celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry -- Jesus didn't say that," O'Brien, who was the archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, said. "There was a time when priests got married, and of course, we know at the present time in some branches of the church -- in some branches of the Catholic church -- priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine origin, and it could get discussed again."
The announcement of O'Brien's resignation comes in the wake of a story in the Italian daily La Repubblica that claims Benedict's recent resignation is linked in part to a report that there is a "network of gay prelates" in the Vatican. That report, a 300-page dossier compiled by three cardinals, describes a church divided by a number of "factions," including one in which individuals are "united by sexual orientation."
Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi has said neither he nor the cardinals would "make comments to confirm or deny the things that are said about this matter."