(Photo: Credit: Reuters/David Moir/Files)
The Roman Catholic Church is dealing with new controversy following the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the most senior Catholic cleric in Britain and leader of the Scottish Catholic Church, who allegedly engaged in inappropriate behavior with other priests.
In his resignation letter, O'Brien revealed that he had presented Pope Benedict XVI with his resignation a number of months ago, and recently received news that the pontiff decided that O'Brien's service would come to an end on Monday.
"I have valued the opportunity of serving the people of Scotland and overseas in various ways since becoming a priest," O'Brien, 74, who had been Scotland's top cleric since 1985, said in his letter.
"Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologize to all whom I have offended."
The Catholic cleric does not address the investigation into inappropriate behavior against other priests he is alleged to have committed in the 1980s, but several news sources, including the BBC, highlight the recent revelations made by a number of priests from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh.
The priests came together and reported O'Brien to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the pope's representative in Britain, the week before Feb. 11, alleging that the Scottish Catholic Church leader engaged in "inappropriate behavior" toward them in the 1980s.
While specific details of the alleged acts were not revealed, the Guardian noted that one of the priests claimed that "the cardinal developed an inappropriate relationship with him, resulting in a need for long-term psychological counseling."
"It tends to cover up and protect the system at all costs," said one of the complainants, who wasn't named. "The church is beautiful, but it has a dark side and that has to do with accountability. If the system is to be improved, maybe it needs to be dismantled a bit."
The priests say they were too scared to come out with the truth back in the 1980s and kept it to themselves.
O'Brian, who has been outspoken in his defense of traditional marriage as between one man and one woman and openly opposed British government plans to legalize same-sex marriage by 2015, is said to be contesting the claims, but has not yet released a full statement on the issue.
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said: "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."
Some, such as Jack Valero of Catholic Voices, who represent Catholics across the U.K., said that the cardinal's resignation is most probably connected with the recent allegations.
"I think it's right that he's resigned, faced with these allegations," Valero said.
"I am very happy that they have been taken seriously, that the nuncio – who is the Pope's representative in the UK – has written to the four people who have made the allegations to thank them for speaking out, and that the whole thing has been done so quickly. I think this shows a new spirit."
It was also confirmed that O'Brien would not be travelling next month to Rome to vote for a successor to Pope Benedict, leaving Britain without a voice in the most important of Roman Catholic assemblies.