THE Vatican is expected to take no further action against Cardinal Keith O’Brien after he admitted having sexual relations with four priests and a seminarian.
The Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh was forced by Pope Benedict XVI to step down in February after admitting that “my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, an archbishop and a cardinal”.
However, Scotland on Sunday has learned that there is no active investigation into his behaviour and that the Vatican is only keeping a loose “watching brief” on his case. O’Brien is also unlikely to be asked to give up his rank as a cardinal unless the new Pope decides to confer the traditional red hat on another senior Scottish catholic.
It is understood that senior figures in the church do not believe a formal investigation is now warranted as he has already admitted and apologised for his behaviour. He has not been seen in public since stepping down as archbishop on February 25.
A source close to the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s civil service, said: “When an investigation takes place people expect some kind of public result of the investigation, but there is just no way there is going to be some kind of public examination and a published report on this matter. The Church doesn’t work that way.”
A second source also explained that the Vatican, whilst keeping a “loose watching brief” in case of further allegations against O’Brien, has not launched any official investigation.
Last September, O’Brien was ordered to step down from public life by the Congregation of Bishops after a priest from the Aberdeen diocese made allegations that included propositioning him at the Scots College in Rome after he been made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003.
When word of the “secret agreement” leaked in February, four other priests from the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh made complaints of a sexual nature against the cardinal to the papal nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, in London.
They were advised by the papal nuncio to stay silent and told that O’Brien would retire quietly to Rome. But fearing a cover-up and adamant that he should not attend the conclave to elect the next Pope after Benedict XVI stunned the world by stepping down, they went public with what they believed was an abuse of power.
Since the cardinal’s retirement as Archbishop on 25 February, the Vatican is said by insiders to consider the matter closed.
It had been suggested at the time of his forced resignation that the next Pope may consider stripping him of his red hat but experts in canon law insist this could be difficult to do and is highly unlikely.
Instead, should the Secretariat of State, the Vatican’s “foreign office”, consider that it is suitable to appoint a new Scottish cardinal, O’Brien may be asked to voluntarily resign the position.
A source close to the Vatican said: “The secretariat of state and the papal nuncio will decide what is the best course of action, they will make this decision and then ask Pope Francis whether he agrees.”
The spokesman for the Vatican, Father Lombardi, did not reply to requests for comment, while the secretary to the papal nuncio said he was not prepared to comment. O’Brien could not be reached for comment.