VATICAN CITY -- Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, who stepped down as archbishop of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2013 after admitting to inappropriate sexual conduct throughout his ministry, died March 19 at the age of 80.
In a brief statement marking the prelate’s passing, the current head of the St. Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese, Archbishop Leo William Cushley, offered prayer for the repose of Cardinal O’Brien’s soul, for his family and for all those affected by the scandal.
“In life, Cardinal O’Brien may have divided opinion,” Archbishop Cushley said. “In death, however, I think all can be united in praying for the repose of his soul, for comfort for his grieving family and that support and solace be given to those whom he offended, hurt and let down. May he rest in peace.”
Born in Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1938, Cardinal O’Brien was named archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh by St. John Paul II in 1985.
Ordained a priest in 1965, he had a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and mathematics and served as a spiritual director of St. Andrew’s College in Drygrange and rector of St. Mary’s College in Blairs before being named archbishop.
From 2002 to 2012, he served as president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland. He was made a cardinal by John Paul II in 2003 and participated in the 2005 conclave that elected Benedict XVI.
He stepped down as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in 2013 at the age of 74 after allegations went public that he had participated in inappropriate sexual behavior with other men in the 1980s.
After the claims surfaced that February, the cardinal's request for retirement — originally submitted to Benedict XVI in November 2012 for reasons due to age and health — was accepted immediately by Benedict, going into effect Feb. 25, 2013.
Cardinal O’Brien, who did not participate in the March 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis, subsequently admitted that “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”
In May 2013, after speaking with the newly elected Pope, Cardinal O’Brien left Scotland for a time of prayer, penance and reflection. In March 2015, Francis in a rare move, accepted his resignation of the rights and privileges of cardinal.
Only a pope can approve a cardinal resigning his official status, and the move is extremely rare in Church history.
The closest parallel to the 2015 event took place in 1927, when French Cardinal Louis Billot resigned from the Sacred College of Cardinals following a stormy meeting with Pope Pius XI. His resignation was accepted by the Pope eight days later.
The ruling by Pope Francis stems from his decision in 2014 to send Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna as his personal envoy on a fact-finding mission to Scotland. It was after that investigation — the content of which is fully known only to the Pope and Archbishop Scicluna — Francis reached his canonical conclusion.
In the wake of Cardinal O’Brien's resignation, Pope Francis in July 2013 named Archbishop Cushley as the next leader of the St. Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese.
According to a March 19 press release from the archdiocese, Cardinal O’Brien died at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne after receiving last rights and was surrounded by his family and friends.