The man who quit as Britain’s top Catholic cleric has admitted sexual misconduct – after previously threatening legal action over the claims.
In an astonishing about-turn Cardinal Keith O’Brien said his “sexual conduct has fallen beneath the standards expected of me”.
His admission came after more details of allegations against him emerged, with accounts of long parties known as “ragers”.
He had earlier said he “contested” allegations made against him by three priests and a former priest and was taking legal advice.
The cardinal, 74, who resigned last week, asked forgiveness from those he had “offended”.
He said in a statement issued through the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland after he left the country: “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 allegations were centred on the cardinal’s time as spiritual director of St Andrew’s College in Drygrange, in the Scottish Borders.
One of the four men claims O’Brien tried to seduce him at the college.
The man reportedly left the priesthood because of O’Brien and was “bewildered, upset and depressed” by the incident, which he alleges happened late at night after prayers. The man, then 20, completed his studies at St Andrew’s and was ordained in 1985 and sent to a parish on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
He decided to leave after learning O’Brien would be his Archbishop.
He said: “I knew then he would always have power over me.”
It has been claimed that during the cardinal’s time at St Andrew’s, late-night drinking parties were common and that on religious holidays, beer and wine were served from lunchtime in parties known as “ragers”.
A document outlining the claims of inappropriate conduct by the three priests and the former priest was sent to Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the papal nuncio, or Vatican ambassador, to Britain, earlier this month.
One priest said inappropriate contact took place when O’Brien visited a parish where he was living.
Another accused him of “unwanted behaviour” after late-night drinks.
The fourth said O’Brien used evening prayer as an opportunity for inappropriate contact.
It has emerged that the Vatican was aware of another allegation dating back to 2001, made last October.
Cardinal O’Brien was Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric when he resigned last Monday as the Archbishop Emeritus of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh.
At the time, he said he would not take part in the election for a successor to Pope Benedict, who he met with Prince Philip when the pontiff flew into Edinburgh to start his state visit in 2010. The cardinal’s stance against gay marriage, which he called a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”, led to him being named 2012 Bigot of the Year by gay rights group Stonewall Scotland.
He was been an outspoken defender of the Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion and euthanasia.
Last week the Daily Mirror revealed that O’Brien had been a friend of paedophile Jimmy Savile, who was a regular visitor when the cleric was living in Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire.
Admission: Cardinal Keith O’Brien – Mirror.co.uk
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