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Scotland's cardinal admits misconduct

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Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, look out of a window at his home in Edinburgh, Scotland, on February 26, 2013.

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By The Washington Post
Sunday, March 3, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

LONDON — Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who stepped down as Britain's highest-ranking Roman Catholic cleric last week amid allegations of inappropriate behavior with priests, conceded on Sunday to committing acts of sexual misconduct.

In Britain, the admission was considered a confirmation of what observers here have called a prime example of the church's hypocrisy, given that O'Brien, 74, emerged as a leading voice against the legalization of same-sex marriages.

Last Monday, outgoing Pope Benedict XVI effectively forced O'Brien's early retirement a day after a British newspaper published accounts by four men – including one former and three current priests – who said O'Brien had initiated intimate contact. When the reports first surfaced, O'Brien, who had been the head of the church in Scotland since 2003, denied the charges.

However, on Sunday, O'Brien admitted in a statement on a church website that his conduct had “fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.” He vowed to “spend the rest of my life in retirement,” adding that “I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland.”

O'Brien has recused himself from attending the gathering to select the next pope.

“To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness,” O'Brien said.

On Sunday, The Observer newspaper, which published the initial allegations, carried reaction from one of the four men, who remain anonymous.

The man, who said O'Brien had approached him in the 1980s when he was a 20-year old seminarian, said that when the men approached the Vatican's diplomatic mission in London last month to make an official denunciation, they were warned that going public would cause “immense further damage to the church.”

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