CARDINAL Keith O’Brien is set to fly to Rome to take part in the election of a new pope despite allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” towards young priests.
Complaints have been made to the Vatican by three priests and one former priest against the 74-year-old Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and called for his resignation.
A spokesman for the Cardinal said he contested the claims and was taking legal advice.
Scotland’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric had been due to lead a special mass at St Mary’s Cathedral to celebrate the eight years of Pope Benedict holding office. But Bishop Stephen Robson, auxiliary bishop for the diocese, announced the Cardinal would not be attending, before taking the mass himself.
He said: “A number of allegations of inappropriate behaviour have been made against the cardinal. The cardinal has sought legal advice and it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. There will be further statements in due course.
“As always in times of need such as this we cannot not be saddened by the events of the last 24 hours.
“It is to the Lord that we turn to now in times of need.”
Those making the allegations, all from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, allege inappropriate approaches were made by the Cardinal, dating back more than 30 years.
The statements, sent to the nuncio Antonio Mennini’s office, include claims of an inappropriate relationship with another priest and another of “unwanted behaviour” after a late-night drinking session.
It is thought they have been publicised now because the four complainants do not want Cardinal O’Brien to go to the Vatican to participate in
electing a new pope.
He is Britain’s only representative in the elections to decide who succeeds Pope Benedict XVI when the pontiff stands down on 28 February. The chances of him not going, however, were said to be “very remote”.
The former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, said it was Cardinal O’Brien’s decision whether to participate in the papal vote and stressed the allegations had not been proven.
Cardinal O’Brien is due to retire next month when he turns 75.
Tycoon Sir Tom Farmer said the allegations came as a big surprise. “All I can say is that Cardinal O’Brien is a good man.”
And Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald described him as “a truly humane, kind and caring man”.
The cardinal has acquired a reputation for being outspoken on issues including homosexuality, abortion and secularism.
This weekend he outraged conservative Catholics by saying priests should be allowed to marry if they wished.
A spokesman for the Vatican said “the Pope is informed about the problem and the question is now in his hands”.
Cardinal for ten years
Keith O’Brien, 74 – Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh since 1985 – was made a cardinal by the late Pope John Paul II ten years ago. He has been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, once comparing it to slavery, and was named “bigot of the year” by gay rights group Stonewall last November. He has also compared the number of abortions in Scotland to the Dunblane massacre.
‘he’s a lovely man, very gentle’
Church-goers at St Mary’s Cathedral backed the cardinal.
Alison Wilie, 65, from the West End, said: “I find it difficult to believe. He has just been brilliant and I think he’s a great man.”
Patrick and Deirdre Harkins, originally from Morningside but visiting from Minnesota, USA, said they had “personally known” the Cardinal for ten years and rubbished the claims. Deirdre said: “There’s no way, not him, no. He’s a lovely man, very gentle.”
John Irvine, 84, from Cameron Toll said he fully supported the Cardinal’s involvement in the papal elections and wished he was in the running for the top job.
“I’m very angry about the allegations, they don’t even make it clear what he’s accused of.”