Disgraced Cardinal Keith O'Brien to leave Scotland for 'prayer and penance'

Cardinal Keith O'Brien Cardinal O'Brien was Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric until he resigned

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Cardinal Keith O'Brien is to leave Scotland for several months after admitting improper sexual conduct, the Vatican has confirmed.

He resigned in February after three priests and a former priest alleged improper conduct back in the 1980s.

The Vatican said that with the Pope's approval Cardinal O'Brien would leave Scotland "for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer and penance".

The Vatican will agree any decision regarding his future arrangements.

In March the cardinal admitted that his sexual conduct had "fallen beneath the standards" expected of him.

Since resigning, he had been planning to move to a church house in Dunbar.

However, on Wednesday the Vatican said that with the Pope's approval Cardinal O'Brien would leave Scotland "for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer and penance".

Celibacy 'struggle'

Cardinal O'Brien was Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric until he stood down as the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh in February.

As a result Cardinal O'Brien took no part in the election of the new Pope.

In an interview with BBC Scotland shortly before the allegations against him were made public, the cardinal said he believed priests should be able to marry and have children if they wished.

He said it was clear many priests struggled to cope with celibacy.

However, he had also recently sparked controversy when he locked horns with the Scottish government over its plans to enshrine same-sex marriage in law by 2015.

A year ago the cardinal put on record his view that gay marriage was a "grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right".

Born in Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1938, the primary school-aged Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien travelled with his family over the Irish Sea to Clydebank.

He was still a young man when his calling to the priesthood came in the late 1950s after he had gained a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and mathematics from Edinburgh University.

Cardinal O'Brien studied for his vocation at St Andrew's College, Drygrange, Roxburghshire, and was ordained on 3 April 1965, a few weeks after his 26th birthday.

On 5 August 1985, Cardinal O'Brien was ordained Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh.

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