Pope Benedict XVI signed several decrees Monday to ensure a swift and smooth election of a successor without hint of a brewing scandal, as the most senior cardinals in Britain and the U.S. wrestled with their personal involvements in the Roman Catholic Church’s decade-old sex scandal.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, resigned his post Monday and announced that he would not attend the Vatican City conclave to elect a new pope, saying his presence would be a distraction. In contrast Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, the senior U.S. prelate, ignored calls Monday for a similar action and blogged about being the object of persecution.
While Cardinal O’Brien becomes the second Catholic cardinal to announce he will not be in Rome to discern Benedict’s successor, he is the first to do so under the cloud of the sex-abuse scandal.
“I also ask God’s blessing on my brother Cardinals who will soon gather in Rome to elect his successor. I will not join them for this Conclave in person. I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me,” Cardinal O'Brien said in his resignation statement.
Vatican historians told reporters in Rome that no previous cardinal had ever recused himself from a conclave in which he was eligible to participate because of personal scandal. Benedict’s resignation takes effect Thursday, and cardinals from around the world are gathering in Rome.
In one decree, Benedict ensured that the results of a Vatican investigation of leaked documents will remain secret for now.
The probe of leaks from 2012 purporting to reveal corruption, cronyism and charges of sexual misconduct will not become officially known to the College of Cardinals, as some Vatican watchers had hoped would happen with an eye to preventing the election of a cardinal who may be compromised.
Benedict met Monday with the three men who conducted the investigation — Cardinals Julian Herranz, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi; all past age 80 and ineligible to vote in the conclave.
According to a Vatican statement, “the acts of the investigation, known only to himself, remain solely at the disposition of the new pope.” The three men may not reveal the contents of the investigation until given instructions by the new pope.
Benedict also squelched any possible move to deny Cardinal Mahony or anyone else the right to vote, decreeing that “no Cardinal elector can be excluded from active or passive voice in the election of the Supreme Pontiff, for any reason or pretext.”
Both Cardinal Mahony and Cardinal O’Brien were hit at the weekend with the sex scandal, which has roiled the church for more than a decade.
The American spent more than three hours answering questions under oath about his handling of clergy sex abuse cases; the Scot was hit by reports in a British newspaper that he had personally engaged in sexual misconduct with seminarians and priests under hits tutelage.
Cardinal O’Brien, who would have been the only voting-eligible British cardinal at the conclave, disputed the charges made in the Observer.
According to the British newspaper, four men — three Scottish priests and a former seminarian — said Cardinal O’Brien had committed acts against them, though the article did not explicitly elaborate or name the men.
“It was assumed I left the priesthood to get married. I did not. I left to preserve my integrity,” the former seminarian said.