Cardinal O'Brien Sorry Over Sexual Misconduct

Cardinal Keith O'Brien has admitted there have been times when his sexual conduct fell beneath "the standards expected".

The 74-year-old resigned as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh last week over allegations of improper behaviour up to 30 years ago.

In a statement issued by the Catholic Church in Scotland, he said: "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.

"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.

"To those I have offended, I apologise and ask forgiveness.

"To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologise.

"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."

The Cardinal had offered to stand down from his post in November but his resignation was only accepted last Monday.

It came a day after The Observer reported three priests and a former priest had complained about him to the Vatican over alleged "inappropriate behaviour" stretching back three decades.

In fresh claims published on Sunday, the former priest attacked the Catholic Church's response to the complaints.

He told the newspaper of "sensing the cold disapproval of the Church hierarchy for daring to break ranks".

He added: "I feel like if they could crush me, they would.

"The vacuum the Church has created has allowed whimsy and speculation to distort the truth, and the only support I have been offered is a cursory email with a couple of telephone numbers of counsellors hundreds of miles away from me."

Another priest, Father John Robinson, told the Daily Record: "If the Catholic Church in Scotland is to heal itself, we need transparency and understanding.

"We need to learn lessons from the mistakes we have made in the past and move on to become a more loving and understanding Church which does not condemn victims or even abusers."

Cardinal O'Brien, who was born in Ballycastle, Co Antrim, had been the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh since 1985.

Ordained as a priest in 1965, he was proclaimed a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in October 2003.

It is understood he is currently out of the country and will not be attending the conclave to elect the successor to Pope Benedict.

His absence means Britain will have no representative to vote in the forthcoming election of the next pope.

"I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me - but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor," Cardinal O'Brien said when he resigned.

The cleric, who initially said he would contest the claims and was taking legal advice, had been expected to quit on March 17 - the date of his 75th birthday.

An outspoken cleric through the years, Cardinal O'Brien has been no stranger to making the news with his views.

Last week, in a BBC interview, he called for the Catholic Church to end its celibacy rule for the priesthood.

He also recently advocated priests marrying - and has been an outspoken opponent of plans to legalise same-sex marriage. His stance landed him the Bigot of the Year award from the gay rights group Stonewall.

In 2007, he caused controversy when on the 40th anniversary of the Abortion Act, he said the termination rate north of the border was equivalent to "two Dunblane massacres a day".

The Archbishop of Glasgow has been appointed to govern the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh until a permanent replacement for Cardinal O'Brien is chosen.