The most senior Catholic clergyman in Britain, cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned yesterday after three Catholic priests and an ex-priest reported allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards colleagues stretching back more than three decades.
The four sent their complaints to the Vatican's ambassador to Britain and demanded the cardinal's immediate resignation. A spokesman for the cardinal said that the claims were contested.
The cardinal has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights, branding homosexuality as immoral, has tried to ban gay adoption and most recently has condemned same-sex marriages.
No wonder gay rights charity Stonewall made cardinal O'Brien Bigot of the Year 2012.
The complaints were delivered just before Pope Benedict's resignation, prompting speculation that this might have been one of the reasons for the Pope's unexpected action.
O'Brien was Britain's only cardinal with a vote in the papal elections, but he indicated yesterday that he would not be taking part.
The first allegation against the cardinal appears to date back over 30 years. O'Brien was then working at a seminary and reportedly made an inappropriate approach to a student priest after night prayers.
A second priest described being happily settled in a parish when, he claims, he was visited by O'Brien and "inappropriate contact" between the two took place.
In a third statement a priest, who was then a young man, claims he was invited to spend a week "getting to know" O'Brien at the archbishop's residence. He alleges "unwanted" behaviour by the cardinal after a late-night drinking session.
Another young priest being counselled by O'Brien over personal problems claims that O'Brien used night prayers as an excuse for inappropriate contact.
One of the men making the complaint said that the church "tends to cover up and protect the system at all costs."
Cardinal O'Brien, who had been due to retire shortly, has denied the accusations.
The Vatican has always been wracked with scandals, financial, sexual and political. Now the Italian media is suggesting one particularly juicy example is at the heart of Pope Benedict XVI's surprise decision to resign.
Italian newspaper La Repubblica has revealed that high-ranking actively homosexual Vatican clerics were being blackmailed.
The day the Pope decided to resign, December 17, Benedict was handed a file of documents from three cardinals, appointed to probe the Vatican "Vatileaks" scandal.
It appears to have started with the Pope's butler Paolo Gabriele, who was convicted of stealing private documents from the Pope and selling them to the highest bidder.
The stolen papers, many of them the Pope's private letters, showed the Vatican as a hotspot of factional squabbling and intrigue.
The papers also made it clear that gay Vatican clerics were susceptible to blackmail.
The Vatican, it seemed, has a gay clergy network which enjoys sexual encounters in villas and saunas in Rome and even in the Vatican itself.
Three senior cardinals appointed by the Pope have prepared a 300-page dossier spelling it out.
The dossier describes a number of warring Vatican groupings, with one powerful Vatican group being made up of sexually active homosexual clergy.
It appears that poor Pope Benedict XVI took one look at the contents of the dossier and decided he should go and leave this particular problem, and a good few others, for his successor at the top of the Church of Rome.
Revered by many, the papacy is not without its darker side...
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