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Catholic Church scandal: Cardinal Keith O'Brien faces Vatican inquiry over allegations of sexual misconduct as he asks forgiveness of those he 'offended'


Britain’s most senior Catholic clergymen looks set to face a Vatican inquiry over allegations of sexual misconduct with the body that was once headed by Pope Benedict set to lead the investigation.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the Vatican council charged with confronting major transgressions by clergy, will likely launch an investigation into Cardinal Keith O’Brien once the new Pope is chosen.

The Catholic Church in Scotland has been plunged into crisis after the Cardinal admitted in a brief statement on Sunday evening that allegations against him from three current priests and one former clergyman that he sexually molested them had some substance.

After initially threatening the journalist who broke the story with legal action, O’Brien admitted in his weekend statement that his sexual conduct “had fallen below the standards expected of me”.

Vatican spokesmen yesterday refused to confirm whether an investigation would be launched but the Scottish Catholic Media Office said they expected an enquiry would take place once Benedict XVI’s successor is chosen.

It is usually officials from the CDF who lead such investigations. Before he became Pope Benedict, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed up the CDF and earned the nickname “God’s Rottweiler” for his pursuit of clergy who strayed from orthodox Catholic teachings. However the pontifical council was also attacked by critics for the way it has handled inquiries into historical sex abuse scandals.

All but 25 of the Cardinals that are set to choose the new Pope have now arrived in Rome. Yesterday [MON] they took the vow of secrecy that starts the Papal Conclave and began to meet in “general congregations” to sketch out a profile of what they need from a new Pontiff.

According to a report by Reuters’ Vatican Correspondent Philip Pullella, the cardinals have asked to be briefed on a secret report that was commissioned by Benedict to look into the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal – a series of allegations of mismanagement, corruption and political bickering at the heart of the Vatican.

As the Papal Conclave gets underway it looks set to be overshadowed the twin scandals surrounding the Vatileaks report and the moral authority of senior clerics. As well as the furore surrounding Cardinal O’Brien there is a growing campaign to stop the American Cardinal Roger Mahony from voting for the new Pope.

As archbishop of Los Angeles from 1985, Mahony worked to send priests known to be abusers out of the state to shield them from law enforcement scrutiny, according to church files unsealed under a U.S. court order last month.

Cardinal O’Brien previously announced his retirement when the allegations against him first emerged a fortnight ago and he confirmed over the weekend that he would no longer play any public role in Catholic Church. He added that he apologised to “the Catholic Church and the people of Scotland”. But gay rights groups have called on the Cardinal to offer a specific apology to the LGBT community because he was such a prolific opponent of homosexuality and gay marriage.

“O'Brien's statement falls well short of what we would expect from a spiritual leader,” said the veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. “He has failed to apologize for the hatred and harm he caused the LGBT community. I urge the Cardinal to show true remorse for his homophobia and hypocrisy by saying sorry to the LGBT community for the hatred and harm he has caused - and by publicly repenting his homophobia.”