MANCHESTER, England — Less than a week after his retirement was announced, a Scottish cardinal has admitted to past acts of sexual misconduct.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the retired archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, issued a statement March 3 in which he publicly acknowledged his failures.
He said that his sexual conduct had "fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and a cardinal."
The former president of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland stepped down Feb. 25 after the Observer, a British weekly national newspaper, carried a story detailing complaints of three priests and one former priest who alleged Cardinal O'Brien had made homosexual advances toward them.
Initially, Cardinal O'Brien, 74, disputed the allegations, but in his March 3 statement he apologized for his actions.
"In recent days, certain allegations which have been made against me have become public," he said. "Initially, their anonymous and nonspecific nature led me to contest them.
"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," Cardinal O'Brien said.
"To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness," he continued. "To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologize."
He added: "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."
Some of the allegations relate to the time Cardinal O'Brien served as spiritual director to the seminarians of St. Andrew's College, Drygrange, Scotland, between 1978 and 1980.
At least one other was made after his appointment as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in 1985.
Three of the four men who complained -- initially to Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the apostolic nuncio to Great Britain -- are priests of the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh. A fourth said he left the priesthood when Cardinal O'Brien was appointed archbishop.
In November, the cardinal submitted his resignation in accordance with canon law, which requires bishops to offer retirement when they turn 75. Cardinal O'Brien turns 75 March 17.
His resignation was accepted by Pope Benedict XVI, but was scheduled to be announced at a later date. But when the allegations emerged of "inappropriate conduct" dating back to the 1980s, the pope accepted his resignation immediately.
Cardinal O'Brien then announced he would not be attending this month's conclave to elect a successor to Benedict XVI because, he said, "I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me."
On March 4, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, refused to confirm or deny if the Vatican was investigating the allegations against the cardinal and refused to comment on when the Vatican was informed of the allegations.
Cardinal O'Brien's resignation means that Britain will not have a cardinal in the conclave, since cardinal-electors must be under 80.
It has also triggered severe criticism in the country's media over the condition of the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom.
Among the criticisms is the charge of hypocrisy because Cardinal O'Brien was one of the most outspoken critics of Britain's plans to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.
In October 2003, just days after Blessed Pope John Paul II named a cardinal, Cardinal-designate O'Brien called for a "full and open discussion" of the church's teachings on homosexuality, contraception and priestly celibacy.
On the eve of traveling to Rome to receive his red hat, he publicly read a specially scripted profession of faith, confirming his adherence to church teaching and discipline.
In an interview Feb. 22, two days before the allegations of sexual misconduct became public, Cardinal O'Brien told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he was in favor of relaxing the rule on priestly celibacy.
Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow has been named the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh until a new archbishop is appointed.