The most senior Catholic bishop in Wales announced his resignation following allegations that he ignored warnings about the activities of two paedophile priests.
The Most Reverend John Aloysius Ward, 72, said he was retiring from his post as Archbishop of Cardiff following a private audience with Pope John Paul II last week.
The controversial archbishop had come under increasing pressure to resign amid criticism that he failed to act in the cases of the two priests who were later jailed for child abuse. He had been off sick since December last year after suffering deep-vein thrombosis and had gone to the Vatican to discuss his return to normal duties.
But, in a statement yesterday, the archbishop said that, at the end of the audience which lasted less than 30 minutes, he had come to the conclusion that his health could fail again.
He said he had been "shocked and deeply hurt" by members of the Catholic Church, and sections of the media, who had "done their utmost" to attack him when he was struck down with illness. "I was determined that no one – be it sections of the media or other critics – would force me out of office," he said.
He insisted that he had not asked the Pope to allow him to return to the post he had held for 18 years, nor had the Holy Father forced him to resign. But he said: "At the end of my audience, I came to the conclusion that my present good health could quickly return to incapacity. Consequently, I offered my resignation to Pope John Paul II and I immediately felt at peace."
He will be replaced by Bishop Peter Smith, 58, of East Anglia, who said he was aware of the "difficulties" faced by his predecessor.
"There have been difficult times for the archdiocese, priests and those abused," he said. "Child abuse is a dreadful wrong and, in the past 12 months, steps have been taken to address the problem. The bishops are intent of getting rid of it but there are no guarantees."
The announcement comes after the Catholic Herald newspaper claimed Archbishop Ward had refused an appeal from the Pope's representative to quit. Archbishop Ward insisted he had done nothing wrong and was being made a "scapegoat" for the troubles.
One of the two priests, John Lloyd, received an eight-year sentence for paedophile offences in 1998. He was once the archbishop's press officer.
The archbishop is said to have ordained the other priest, Joseph Jordan, in 1998, in the knowledge that he had been tried and acquitted of indecently assaulting a young boy.Reuse content