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British cardinal accused of "inappropriate acts" with other priests

  • Article by: JOHN F. BURNS
  • New York Times
  • February 24, 2013 - 10:15 PM

– Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has been accused of committing “inappropriate acts” in his relations with three priests and one former priest, the Observer newspaper reported Sunday. The accusations, which date to the 1980s, have been forwarded to the Vatican.

The newspaper said that the four men had made their complaints to the pope’s diplomatic representative in Britain, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, and that the complaints had reached Mennini in the week before Pope Benedict announced his resignation on Feb. 11.

The timing of the article, which was apparently drawn from church sources with access to the file that Mennini had forwarded to Rome, became an immediate focus of attention.

Reports from Rome in recent days have described the feverish speculation — and intrigue, according to Vatican insiders — surrounding the next pope, who is set to be chosen by a conclave of 117 ­eligible cardinals, among them O’Brien, scheduled to convene at the Vatican sometime next month. Benedict’s resignation takes effect Thursday.

The Catholic Church has been besieged during Benedict’s eight years in office by scandals over pedophilia and other forms of sexual abuse by priests. But the three weeks since he announced his decision to retire on the grounds of failing health have been marked by a surge of Italian news media reports, many of them speculative, of gay sex scandals in the Vatican and other allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

These reports have been seen by some in the Vatican as intended to harm some contenders for the papacy. Some Vatican experts believe they might also be devised to manufacture a sense of crisis that would encourage the conclave to select a conservative, “sheriff” type of cardinal as the next pope. O’Brien, who is set to retire after turning 75 next month, is the only cleric from Britain who will be eligible to vote in the conclave.

On Saturday, the Vatican Secretariat of State issued a statement strongly rebuking recent reports in the Italian news media, calling them a dangerous attempt to try to condition the cardinal electors. The Vatican called it “deplorable” that before the conclave there was “a widespread ­distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories, that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”

O’Brien had been scheduled to lead a mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Sunday morning, an occasion dedicated to a celebration of Benedict’s time in the papacy. But he did not appear for the mass.

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