LONDON (AFP) - Pope Benedict XVI has been informed about allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric, who is due to vote on the Pontiff's successor, the Vatican said on Sunday.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, denies allegations by three priests and a former priest that were sent to Rome a week before the Pope's resignation on Feb 11, the Observer newspaper reported.
"The Pope is informed about the problem and the matter is now in his hands," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told journalists when asked about the report in the British newspaper. A spokesman for Cardinal O'Brien said the claims were contested.
The four claimants, from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh in Scotland, reported to Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican's ambassador to Britain, that Cardinal O'Brien had committed "inappropriate acts" going back 33 years, the Observer said. One priest claims he received unwanted attention from the cardinal after a late-night drinking session. Another alleges that Cardinal O'Brien used night prayers as cover for inappropriate contact, according to the paper.
Cardinal O'Brien has a vote in the forthcoming papal conclave, which is due to take place next month. The claimants, who are demanding the cleric's resignation, are worried that their report will not be properly addressed if he is allowed to travel to Rome.
"It (the church) tends to cover up and protect the system at all costs," said one of the complainants, according to quotes published by the Observer. "The church is beautiful, but it has a dark side and that has to do with accountability. If the system is to be improved, maybe it needs to be dismantled a bit."
However, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the former archbishop of Westminster and ex-head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said Cardinal O'Brien should still be allowed to help choose the next Pope if he chooses.
"The cardinal has denied the allegations, so I think we will just have to see how that pans out," Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor told BBC television.
Asked whether Cardinal O'Brien should still take part in the conclave, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said: "That is up to Cardinal O'Brien to decide... It will be up to him, and I think rightly so. The allegations have not been proved in any way, so he will have to decide whether he wants to go."