Catholic cardinal quits amid sex scandal

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the archbishop of Scotland.

ROME – Scandal is threatening to eclipse the poignancy and pageantry of Benedict XVI’s historic final days as pope.

Vatican officials were already trying today to swat down unsavoury claims by Italian publications of a brewing episode involving gay priests, male prostitutes and blackmail when news broke that Benedict had moved up the resignation of a Scottish archbishop linked over the weekend by a British newspaper to inappropriate relationships with priests.

The scandals – along with lingering questions about how the church has handled claims of abuse by Catholic priests around the world – have dimmed the spotlight on Benedict’s final days as pope.

The Vatican confirmed today that Benedict had accelerated the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the archbishop of Scotland.

Effective immediately

O’Brien told the pope in November that he would resign effective with his 75th birthday, on March 17. But Benedict decided to make the resignation effective immediately in light of the pope’s imminent resignation, the Scottish Catholic Media Office said.

The announcement comes a day after a Sunday report by the British newspaper The Observer that three priests and one former priest leveled allegations against O’Brien that date back 30 years.

The Observer did not recount details of the claims or identify any of O’Brien’s accusers, but said one of the priests alleged “that the cardinal developed an inappropriate relationship with him.”

O’Brien did not attend Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday, but the Scottish Catholic Media Office told CNN that the cardinal “contests these claims and is taking legal advice.”

His accusers took their complaints to the Vatican representative in Britain and demanded O’Brien’s resignation, The Observer reported. At the Vatican, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a spokesman for the church, told reporters that Benedict has been informed of the allegations. (CNN)

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