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Senior British Cardinal Resigns Over Allegations of Inappropriate Behavior

February 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now the leader of the Catholic Church in Britain assigns amid a shroud of scandal.

Ciaran Jenkins of Independent Television News has the story.

CIARAN JENKINS, Independent Television News: Just days before the pope abdicates, the U.K.’s top Catholic cleric announces he’s standing aside, too.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien leaves with immediate effect and leaves the Catholic Church once more facing difficult questions. His resignation follows allegations in a national newspaper. He’s accused of inappropriate behavior towards four priests dating back to the 1980s, allegations he denies.

The only activity here at the cardinal’s residence today is the gaggle of cameramen waiting for him to come outside. It’s hardly surprising he’s keeping a low profile. This resignation is designed to take him out of the media spotlight before the election of a new pope in just a few weeks’ time.

Now, though, the U.K. will have no say in choosing Pope Benedict’s successor. It was to be one of Cardinal O’Brien’s last official duties before a scheduled retirement next month, but in a statement, he said: “The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today. Looking back over my years of ministry, for any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologize to all whom I have offended.”

He does, however, remain a cardinal. It’s understood he could still take part in the election of a new pope, and it’s his choice not to do so.

In Scotland, Cardinal O’Brien is a divisive figure, though many are sad to see him go.

ALEX SALMOND, Scottish First Minister: No one — no one would have wished these circumstances. Everyone will feel great sadness for what’s arisen today. But I just feel that, particularly at a time like this, that we should reflect for a minute just on the massive contribution that Keith O’Brien has made to his church and his country over almost 50 years.

CIARAN JENKINS: Others found him difficult, not least for his uncompromising opposition to gay marriage.

COLIN MACFARLANE, Stonewall Scotland: What we really actually hope in Scotland is that the cardinal’s successor will be able to show more a little bit more Christian charity to openly gay people than the cardinal was able to do himself.

CIARAN JENKINS: By the end of this week, the Catholic Church will have vacancies not only for pope, but for the top job in the U.K. too.