Skip to main content

Embattled Scottish Cardinal O'Brien apologizes for 'my sexual conduct'

By Josh Levs, Ben Wedeman and Mike Pearson
updated 5:23 AM EST, Mon March 4, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cardinal Keith O'Brien apologizes and asks forgiveness from those he "offended"
  • He had previously contested the claims
  • O'Brien has not acknowledged any specific incidents
  • The Observer reported on accusations from priests dating back 30 years

(CNN) -- A Scottish cardinal who had earlier challenged allegations of sexual impropriety -- claims that once again shined an international spotlight on alleged sexual abuse involving Roman Catholic clergy -- reversed course Sunday and apologized.

"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," Cardinal Keith O'Brien said in a statement.

Until days ago, O'Brien was the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh.

He has been dogged by allegations he abused four men studying to be priests in the 1980s.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigns
A Catholic Church cover-up?
Scandal unsettles Scottish Catholics
Pope's legacy with pedophile priests

"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," O'Brien said.

"To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness."

O'Brien, 74, also apologized to "the Catholic Church and people of Scotland."

He did not explain exactly what "conduct" he was referring to.

O'Brien told Pope Benedict XVI in November that he would resign effective his upcoming birthday, on March 17. But Benedict decided to make the resignation effective immediately in light of the pope's imminent resignation, the Scottish Catholic Media Office said.

According to his biography on his archdiocese's website, O'Brien asked to step down in light of his "approaching ... 75th birthday (and) health concerns."

Meanwhile, he had been thrust into the ongoing story about sexual abuse in the church after the British newspaper The Observer reported that three priests and one former priest, as long as 30 years ago, had accused O'Brien. The Observer did not recount the details of the claims or identify the men but said one of the priests alleged "the cardinal developed an inappropriate relationship with him."

The Scottish Catholic Media Office said then that O'Brien contested the claims and was "taking legal advice."

The same office released O'Brien's new statement on Sunday.

Born in Northern Ireland, O'Brien moved to Scotland as a child, graduating in 1959 from the University of Edinburgh. Ordained as a priest six years later at age 29, he later held various positions -- including as a math and science teacher, as well as rector and spiritual director -- at schools in Scotland, in addition to working as a priest.

He was named archbishop in 1985 and became a cardinal 18 years later.

Catholic population in numbers  Catholic population in numbers
Catholic population in numbersCatholic population in numbers
Catholic population in percentages  Catholic population in percentages
Catholic population in percentages Catholic population in percentages

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, meanwhile, is facing fresh attention over what role he may have played in the cover-up of sexual abuse by priests.

The Vatican has also been plagued by another scandal in recent days, as Benedict was ending his papacy.

Two Italian publications said Benedict, 85, resigned not because of his advanced age but because of a brewing scandal over the blackmail of gay priests by male prostitutes in Rome.

Benedict received a 300-page report in December detailing the possible blackmail, la Repubblica newspaper and the Panorama news weekly reported, citing an unidentified senior Vatican official and dozens of unnamed sources.

The Vatican emphatically denied the allegations, with Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone criticizing a rash of "often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories" as the cardinals prepare for their conclave to select a new pope.

CNN's Matt Smith, Laura Smith-Spark, Greg Botelho and Hada Messia contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Tethered to an IV drip, 71-year-old Shin Young Ja lies under a thin fleece blanket, nursing a broken back and wracked with survivor's guilt.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Family members of the missing passengers are pinning slim hopes on floundering air pockets.
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
The Hadza are one of the last communities of hunter-gatherers in the world -- but losing their land.
updated 9:22 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
In choosing to change a traditional practice, Francis is being as radical as Jesus was in his own time.
updated 7:13 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Too weak. Can't handle pressure. Unattractive to sponsors. Susie Wolff has heard it all.
updated 11:56 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
It's like finding a needle in a universe-wide haystack. Researchers have located a planet roughly the size of Earth that could be habitable.
updated 5:40 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Dubai, long champion of all things biggest, longest and most expensive, will soon have some competition from a neighboring country.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT