Top Catholic Cardinal Keith O'Brien Admits Sexual Misconduct, Asks Forgiveness

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who resigned last week as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Britain over allegations of sexual misconduct, which he initially denied, has now admitted to having acted inappropriately.

"In recent days certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them," O'Brien said in a letter on Sunday, following news that he had resigned from his position.

"However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."

The accusations against the 74-year-old archbishop came to light last month after a number of clergy spoke out about incidents that occurred in the 1980s. The unidentified priests, who spoke to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the pope's representative in Britain, explained that they were too scared to report O'Brien's transgressions back then.

The specific acts of which O'Brien is being accused of remain unclear, but one of the priests claimed that "the cardinal developed an inappropriate relationship with him, resulting in a need for long-term psychological counseling."

The Scottish cardinal, who also served as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh from 1985 to 2013, apologized to the Roman Catholic Church, his congregation and those who he hurt.

"To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness," the cardinal said in his letter. "I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland."

Accepting O'Brien's resignation was one of the last official tasks of Pope Benedict XVI, who himself retired on Thursday, the first pope to do so in close to 600 years. The Scottish priest becomes one of the most high-ranking officials to ever directly be accused of sexual misconduct. The resignation comes at a time when the Catholic Church is battling hard to restore its image following hundreds of lawsuits against clergy accused of abuse.

"It tends to cover up and protect the system at all costs," said one of the priests who spoke to nuncio Mennini. "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."

Catherine Pepinster of the international Catholic newspaper The Tablet expressed her hopes, however, that O'Brien's resignation would allow the Catholic Church in Britain to move on.

"This is a shocking admission, but one that is in many ways welcome, not least because it seems Cardinal O'Brien must have been leading a double life, and that is now at an end," Pepinster said.

"That must surely be a relief to him and a burden lifted. But it must also be a relief to Catholics in Scotland. The boil has been lanced, and it's time to move on. Too many scandals in the Catholic Church drag on and on, but this one has been dealt with speedily, and a line can be drawn."

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