Cardinal's departure darkens mood as pope allows early conclave

Mon Feb 25, 2013 12:49pm EST
 
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A senior cleric resigned under duress on Monday and Pope Benedict took the rare step of changing Vatican law to allow his successor to be elected early, adding to a sense of crisis within the Roman Catholic Church.

With just three days left before Benedict becomes the first pope in some six centuries to step down, he accepted the resignation of Britain's only cardinal elector, Archbishop Keith O'Brien, who was to have voted for the next pope.

O'Brien, who retains the title of cardinal, has denied allegations that he behaved inappropriately with priests over a period of 30 years, but said he was quitting the job of archbishop of Edinburgh.

He could have attended the conclave despite his resignation, but said he would stay away because he did not want media attention to be focused on himself instead of the process of choosing the next leader of the 1.2 billion-member Church.

O'Brien's dramatic self-exclusion came as the Vatican continued to resist calls by some Catholics to stop other cardinals tainted by sex scandals, such as U.S. Cardinal Roger Mahony, from taking part.

Catholic activists have petitioned Mahony to exclude himself from the conclave so as not to insult survivors of sexual abuse by priests committed while he was archbishop of Los Angeles.

In that post from 1985 until 2011, Mahony worked to send priests known to be abusers out of state to shield them from law enforcement scrutiny in the 1980s, according to church files unsealed under a U.S. court order last month.

"O'Brien's recusal is also important as a precedent," said Terence McKiernan, of BishopAccountability.org, a U.S.-based documentation center on child abuse by priests.   Continued...

 
Pope Benedict XVI leads his last Angelus prayer before stepping down in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano