- - Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Scottish cardinal Sunday admitted to engaging in sexual misconduct, one day before Roman Catholic leaders prepare for a meeting here to begin the selection of a pope under a cloud of church scandals, including those involving pedophile priests.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien had been Britain’s highest-ranking Catholic leader until he resigned last week as archbishop of St. Andrew and Edinburgh, after a British newspaper reported allegations about unidentified priests that he has acted improperly toward them.

Cardinal O'Brien already had told the Vatican he would not attend the conclave of cardinals to elect a new pontiff to replace Pope Benedict XVI.

His admission came as 115 cardinals were arriving in Rome for a pre-conclave meeting Monday that is expected to set some of the ground rules for the formal meeting of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel in a secretive process that will chose the next leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. The date for the start of the conclave and other rules for the conclave will be decided on by a series of pre-conclave “congregations.”

“When Benedict was selected [as pope] in 2005, the task was to find the right man to carry on John Paul II’s spiritual mission,” said Alistair Sear, a church historian. “Now, most will no doubt be looking to select the right person to confront the scandals threatening the church.”

The Vatican also confirmed that it has completed a special investigation into what is reported to be network of homosexual clergy working in the Vatican itself, along with implications of possible blackmail. The findings are sealed and will be presented to the new pope.

The case could be related to the embarrassing confidential documents leaked last year by Paolo Gabriele, the former pope’s butler who was later convicted of theft. Vatican press officials confirmed over the weekend that the investigators used wiretaps to gather some of their information.

The Vatican Bank is under investigation for money laundering, a probe that temporarily rendered the Holy See’s automatic teller machines idle earlier this year.

On Sunday, the Scottish Catholic Church released a statement from Cardinal O’Brien, acknowledging unspecified sexual misconduct, apologizing to the church and asking for forgiveness.

“To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness,” the statement says. “To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologize. I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland.”

The Observer newspaper last month reported claims against Cardinal O’Brien from four priests, who later reported on his behavior to Antonio Mennini, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain.

More controversy erupted after Hans Kung, a former bishop who worked on the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, blamed Benedict for many of the church’s scandals. He criticized him for weak leadership and accused him of maneuvering to become a “shadow pope” to influence a new pontiff.

“He is not exactly going to a mountaintop to pray,” said Mr.Bishop Kung, who was a friend of the former pope when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

“He will have the possibility to intervene constantly. It is a dangerous situation. I see many conflicts,” he said of Benedict.

Any cardinal younger than 80 when Benedict stepped down Thursday can vote for the next pope. Cardinal Julius Darmaatmadja of Indonesia also will miss the conclave because he is physically unable to travel.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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