Cardinal Keith O'Brien is shown in 2005. O'Brien was quoted Sunday as saying there had been times "that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."(Photo: Thomas Coex, AFP/Getty Images)
Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who stepped down as archbishop last week amid accusations of sexual impropriety, on Sunday apologized for past sexual conduct.
O'Brien issued a statement Sunday saying he had contested early allegations made against him because of their "anonymous and non-specific nature." He offered no specifics Sunday, but did apologize for his behaviour.
"I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal," his statement says. "To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness. 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."
O'Brien had been the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland and the U.K.'s most senior Roman Catholic before stepping down as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh. That came after media reports that several priests had accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior when he worked at a seminary in the 1980s.
O'Brien was never the poster boy for the Vatican's positions on sexual behavior.
In 2003, as a condition of being made a cardinal, O'Brien was forced to issue a public pledge to defend church teaching on homosexuality, celibacy and contraception. He was pressured to make the pledge after he had called for a "full and open discussion" on such matters.
At the time, O'Brien said he had been misunderstood and wanted to clarify his position. But statements made last week, before the scandal over his behavior broke, suggested he never really changed his mind. In an interview with the BBC, O'Brien said celibacy should be reconsidered because it's not based on doctrine but rather church tradition and "is not of divine origin."
When he stepped down last week, O'Brien also said he would not take part in the conclave to elect of a successor to Pope Benedict XVI because he did not "wish for media attention in Rome to be focused on me."
Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, lauded O'Brien's recusal as an important precedent for a church where priests have been disciplined for abuse but church leaders who failed to halt the abuse have been largely unscathed.
"Cardinals who are tainted by the crisis cannot choose the person who will solve it,," .McKiernan said in a statement. "...If they are involved in the deliberations and the votes, they will taint the outcome, damaging the legitimacy of whoever is ultimately chosen."
O'Brien actually submitted his request to resign to Pope Benedict XVI months ago. When the accusations surfaced, he explained his decision to resign had been due to "indifferent health" as he approached the age of 75.
Contributing: John Bacon; Associated Press