CARDINAL Keith O’Brien will face a Vatican investigation following his dramatic admission of sexual misconduct.
It is understood it is unlikely that criminal proceedings will happen as there is as yet no suggestion anything “illegal” has taken place.
The former Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh was today said to have left the country as the Scottish Catholic community struggled to come to terms with the news.
Cardinal O’Brien resigned as archbishop last Monday, the day after it was revealed three priests and one former priest had made allegations of inappropriate behaviour dating back to the 1980s.
It was claimed another priest had made a similar complaint to Rome about an incident in 2001.
The cardinal had originally contested the claims, but last night he issued a statement confessing his sexual conduct had at times “fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”.
He added: “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.”
Leading Catholic and Edinburgh University historian Professor Tom Devine said the mood among many Catholics would be one of “anger and a deep sense of betrayal”.
He said: “The faithful in Scotland owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the priests and former priest who had the personal courage to bring all this into the public domain. The pain caused by this episode will be profound, but better that than concealing the truth.”
Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald said: “I’m saddened to think of all the good work that the cardinal did, and the kindness he showed, that he should end his career in such a way. He was my friend, is my friend and remains my friend.”
Meanwhile, the former priest who made allegations against the cardinal said he was “disappointed” by the church’s “cold disapproval”.
He said: “The only support I have been offered is a cursory e-mail with a couple of telephone numbers of counsellors hundreds of miles away from me.”
His comments came as West Lothian-based priest Father John Robinson, 71, called for more “transparency and understanding” in the way the church dealt with complaints.
He added: “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.”
Cardinals from around the world were due to hold their first pre-conclave meeting in Rome today begin the process of electing the next Pope.