A British cardinal who was forced to resign by the pope last week makes a dramatic admission that his sexual conduct "had fallen beneath the standards" expected of him during his almost 50-year career.
VATICAN (MARCH 4, 2013) (REUTERS) - A Roman Catholic cardinal who resigned as head of the church in Scotlandapologised on Sunday (March 3) for sexual conduct which he said had "fallen below the standards expected of me".
Cardinal Keith O'Brien was Britain's most senior Catholic cleric until he resigned as archbishop on February 25 and said he would not take part in the conclave to elect a new pope. The announcement followed newspaper allegations of inappropriate behaviour with priests.
O'Brien's dramatic resignation and self-exclusion from the conclave added to a sense of crisis in the Catholic Church as it deals with the resignation of Pope Benedict against a backdrop of scandals.
O'Brien would have been Britain's only elector at the conclave. He could have attended despite his resignation as archbishop, but chose not to do so.
The sexual abuse crisis haunting the Church is expected to play a key role in pre-conclave meetings Roman Catholic cardinals began holding at the Vatican on Monday (March 4).
Reuters Vatican Correspondent Philip Pullella said the situation was unprecedented.
"That on the eve of a conclave to elect a new pope, one of the potential members of the conclave withdraws and also asks for forgiveness for the sins that he has committed. It is completely unprecedented and it casts a long shadow over this meeting," he said.
In Rome, abuse victim group SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) said a future Vatican inquiry into O'Brien's conduct was better than no step at all.
But SNAP director David Clohessy said it would be difficult to ensure the inquiry's independence.
"Any move towards holding people responsible who abused their power and trust and sexually violated others is good but, two other quick points, we also think that first and foremost, no matter how unlikely it may seem, victims and witnesses in this case should approach civil authorities, secular authorities. Because while it might at the outside look improbably that there would be criminal charges we should always start with the secular realm," he said.
Clohessy said he expected victims in Britain to feel some sense of relief and vindication.
"A supposed inquiry, essentially by the wrong-doer's colleagues doesn't feel like it's much but I think victims suffer most when there is absolutely no knowledge of or acknowledgement of the wrong-doing. So usually even tiny steps forward in the direction of accountability do help ease some of the suffering of the victims," he said.
The Catholic Church's handling of the sexual abuse of children and others by priests has dogged the papacy of Benedict, who stepped down on Thursday (January 28) after becoming the first pope in centuries to choose to resign.
The next leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics will be chosen by cardinals in theVatican's Sistine Chapel.
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