Former Catholic archbishop says Cardinals will have to address child abuse scandals at meeting to elect Pope

Cormac Murphy-O'Connor says new head should be 'capable of addressing needed reforms'

Political Correspondent

Cardinals who meet in Rome to elect a new Pope will have to address the child abuse scandals that have affected the Catholic Church’s “image and effectiveness”  and elect a new head “capable of addressing needed reforms” according to the Catholic primate of England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.

The comments from the cardinal follow the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien who had been scheduled to fly to the Vatican as part of the conclave who will elect a new Pope.

Cardinal O’Brien resigned as head of the Scottish Catholic Church after being accused by “inappropriate acts” towards fellow priests.

Despite rumours that the Vatican had effectively told the Edinburgh-based cleric not to travel to Rome for the papal vote, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said the decision not to take part in the election of the new pope had been Cardinal O’Brien’s, that it was a matter of “his own conscience” and that he feared his participation “would be a distraction.”

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said his Scottish colleague had personally asked to accelerate his resignation, and therefore would avoid the journey to Rome.

He said it would “inappropriate” to comment further on the allegations that have made against Cardinal O’Brien. However he said he had been “saddened” by the resignation and regarded his colleague as “an honest man”.

Although Pope Benedict accepted the Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation, there has been no formal reasons offered as why his planned leaving date in March this year was brought forward.

Although Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor offered only full support for his fellow cleric, he nevertheless accepted the “main business” cardinals would have to devote time to in Rome was the troubles and sexual scandals that have hit the Catholic Church’s reputation in recent years.

“The Pope’s own house needs to be put in order,” said the cardinal, adding that the new pope would need to be a “man of dialogue” who could ensure that necessary investigations were carried out.

Among the “gravest” matters that needed to be investigation further, he said, was the protection of children.

Responding to a question that said the resignation of Cardinal O’Brien was part of a deeper malaise affecting the Catholic Church throughout the world, which had seen scandals involving senior clerics in the United States, Europe and some African countries,  Cardinal Murphy O’Connor said  “these matters have got to be addressed at the highest level”, adding that the “image and effectiveness of the church” was at stake.

Pope Benedict XVI will step down on Thursday after eight years as Pontiff. He announced his resignation on Feb 11 citing reasons of ill-health.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s age prevented him from having a formal vote in the election of the next pope. The resignation of Cardinal O’Brien  means no British cleric will now be involved in the papal election.

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