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Pope Francis has accepted Scottish Cardinal Keith M. O’Brien’s renunciation of his rights and privileges as a cardinal. Cardinal O’Brien resigned as Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh two years ago following allegations of sexual misconduct.
A Vatican statement today read, “The Holy Father has accepted the resignation of the rights and privileges of a cardinal, expressed in canons 349, 353 and 356 of the Code of Canon Law, presented by His Eminence Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien, Archbishop Emeritus of St Andrews & Edinburgh, after a period of prayer and penance. With this provision, His Holiness would like to manifest his pastoral solicitude to all the faithful of the Church in Scotland and to encourage them to continue with hope the path of renewal and reconciliation.”
The move means that Cardinal O’Brien, who was accused by three priests and one former priest of sexual harrassment dating back to the early 1980s, when O’Brien was a spiritual director at a college, will no longer be able to participate in the election of a future pope or assist a pope in the governance of the Church. The archdiocese of St. Andrews & Edinburgh said Cardinal O’Brien will be confined to a "strictly private life with no further participation in any public, religious or civil events."
The BBC said that Cardinal O’Brien was "Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric" before resigning.
Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews & Edinburgh said in a statement, “As most people are aware, Pope Francis is a good and prayerful man whose character embodies justice and mercy. I am confident therefore that the decision of the Holy Father is fair, equitable and proportionate. Cardinal O’Brien’s behavior distressed many, demoralized faithful Catholics and made the Church less credible to those who are not Catholic. I therefore acknowledge and welcome his apology to those affected by his behavior and also to the people of Scotland, especially the Catholic community.”
According to the archdiocese, today’s announcement follows a decision by Pope Francis to send a personal envoy, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, on a fact-finding mission to Scotland last year. Based upon that investigation – the content of which is fully know only to Pope Francis and Archbishop Scicluna – Pope Francis reached his canonical conclusion. Cardinal O’Brien’s decision followed a private discussion with Pope Francis. This was preceded by a period of prayer and penance in order to allow the cardinal to reflect upon his misconduct.
Archbishop Cushley added: “For my own part, I would like to express sorrow and regret to those most distressed by the actions of my predecessor. I also pay tribute to those who had the courage to come forward to speak to Archbishop Scicluna. I hope now that all of us affected by this sad and regrettable episode will embrace a spirit of forgiveness, the only spirit that can heal any bitterness and hurt that still remains.”
The archdiocese also said that Archbishop Scicluna conducted his fact-finding mission April 8-10, 2014, and that those who spoke to him did so on the basis of anonymity.
Cardinal O’Brien will continue to live outside Scotland "until such times as he may require full-time residential accommodation for the sick or elderly, at which point this arrangement will be reconsidered," the archdiocese said.
In a statement posted on the archdiocese’s website, Cardinal O’Brian said, “I wish to repeat the apology which I made to the Catholic Church and the people of Scotland some two years ago now on 3rd March 2013. I then said that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me. For that I am deeply sorry.”
“I thank Pope Francis for his fatherly care of me and of those I have offended in any way," he added. "I will continue to play no part in the public life of the Church in Scotland; and will dedicate the rest of my life in retirement, praying especially for the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, for Scotland, and for those I have offended in any way.”