Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who resigned in disgrace, dies aged 80

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who resigned five years ago as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh after apologising for sexual misconduct, has died.

Cardinal O’Brien, formerly the Catholic Church’s most senior cleric in Britain, suffered a head injury and broke his collarbone after suffering a fall at his Northumberland home last month.

He was admitted to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, where he died yesterday, three days after his successor, Archbishop Leo Cushley, administered the last rites. He was 80.

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In a statement, Archbishop Cushley said: “In life, Cardinal O’Brien may have divided opinion. In death, however, I think all can be united in praying for the repose of his soul, for comfort for his grieving family and that support and solace be given to those whom he offended, hurt and let down. May he rest in peace.”

The disgraced former leader of the church in Scotland, who had been suffering from a heart ailment, became the first cardinal in history to recuse himself from a papal election over a personal scandal.

He resigned in February 2013 after three priests and a former priest alleged improper conduct in the 1980s.

The outspoken campaigner against gay marriage and gay rights initially contested the allegations but later apologised, saying his sexual conduct had “fallen beneath the standards” expected of him.

Cardinal O’Brien’s health had deteriorated since the fall last month in which he broke his collarbone and suffered a head injury.

Scotland's last Cardinal Keith O'Brien has died aged 80. Picture: Greg Macvean
Scotland's last Cardinal Keith O'Brien has died aged 80. Picture: Greg Macvean

The Little Sisters of the Poor, who run a nursing home in Newcastle upon Tyne, were caring for him.

Archbishop Cushley visited him in hospital to administer the sacrament on Friday on the eve of the cardinal’s 80th birthday.

Cardinal O’Brien was born in Ballycastle, County Antrim, and educated in Scotland, where he attended St Patrick’s High School in Dumbarton and Holy Cross Academy in Edinburgh.

After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, he attended St Andrew’s College in Drygrange, and was ordained in 1965.

Scotland's last Cardinal Keith O'Brien has died aged 80. Picture: Greg Macvean

He was ordained as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh in 1985, and became cardinal in 2003, only the fourth Scottish clergyman to do so since the Reformation.

At the time of his retirement from public life, he said: “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.”

Pope Francis accepted his resignation and stated Cardinal O’Brien would not take part in future papal elections, act as papal adviser, or take part in Vatican congregations.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia said: “We have received the sad news of the death of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Emeritus Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh.

“On behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland I wish to express my sincere sympathy on the death of the late cardinal to his family and close friends. I ask for prayers for the repose of his soul. May he rest in peace.”