VATICAN CITY – The Vatican is sending its former sex crimes prosecutor to Scotland this week to investigate "recent serious allegations of misconduct" surrounding disgraced Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who resigned last year after admitting to sexual misdeeds.
The Vatican and the Scottish church said Bishop Charles Scicluna will report on the situation.
O'Brien, once Britain's highest-ranking Catholic leader, resigned in disgrace as the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in 2013 and recused himself from the conclave that elected Francis as pope in 2013 after unidentified priests alleged in British newspaper reports that he acted inappropriately toward them.
The men said they had complained to church authorities about O'Brien's conduct but that the church had failed to respond. None of the men are believed to have been minors at the time of the purported misconduct.
After initially denying the allegations, O'Brien eventually admitted that his sexual conduct had "fallen below the standards expected" of a priest, archbishop and cardinal. He apologized and promised to play no further role in the public life of the Scottish church.
The Vatican ordered O'Brien to leave Scotland for a period of prayer and atonement, but until the National Catholic Reporter reported Scicluna's visit, the Vatican had never confirmed it was investigating the allegations.
The matter is particularly sensitive given O'Brien's rank as a cardinal. It's only the second known time that a cardinal has been investigated by the Holy See for sexual misconduct. The then-archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Hans Groer, was forced to resign in 1995 over claims he molested youths in a monastery in the 1970s.
The current archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Leo Cushly, urged any current or former priest to come forward and speak with Scicluna. He urged them not to be afraid, saying they could speak confidentially or in writing if they preferred.
Scicluna was for a decade the Vatican's chief sex crimes prosecutor, largely credited with cracking down on pedophile priests and turning around the church's in-house procedures to prosecute them under canon law. While he was named an auxiliary bishop to Malta in 2012, he has remained active in his area of expertise, recently representing the Holy See before a U.N. human rights committee evaluating the Vatican's record on sex abuse.
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