Revelations that the most senior Roman Catholic cleric in Britain had a secret sex life cast a shadow over the first day of a meeting of the Church’s cardinals as they gathered to choose a successor to Benedict XVI, now Pope Emeritus.
The 142 “princes of the church” met in the Paul VI Hall of the Vatican to discuss the Church’s problems and the sort of qualities required of the new pope to deal with them.
But officials in Rome and the Vatican’s representative to Britain flatly refused to discuss how long Benedict XVI had known about the accusations against Cardinal O’Brien or how many accusers there are.
Claims emerged yesterday that a fifth priest had come forward as early as October last year, sending a complaint directly to the Vatican about alleged approaches by Cardinal O’Brien.
The Vatican has said that the British cardinal tendered his resignation around November last year, in anticipation of turning 75 this month.
That prompted speculation that the Vatican negotiated a deal months ago in which the British cardinal would retire quietly in an attempt to spare embarrassing the Church. It has been alleged that the deal was brokered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops and one of the front-runners to be elected pope.
Vatican spokesmen refused to answer questions about whether an official investigation had been opened into the scandal. “I have no precise information,” Fr Federico Lombardi said in response to questions by The Daily Telegraph. “We don’t want to spend all week talking about Cardinal O’Brien.”