Britain’s Leading Cardinal Keith O’Brien Hit By Sex Scandal As Pope Benedict XVI Says Last Blessing

Even as Pope Benedict XVI gave his final Sunday blessing from his studio window to the cheers of thousands, new allegations are set to mire the Roman Catholic Church in a sex scandal involving five priests.

The Vatican has received complaints from three priests and a former priest over claims of “inappropriate behavior” by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland.

The four complainants are also calling for the immediate resignation of O’Brien, who is the current Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, The Observer reports.

The complainants sent their statements to the nuncio Antonio Mennini’s office — the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain — and have reportedly said that they were too afraid to come forward before.

The Observer also reports that it has seen emails which suggested the nuncio had indicated that he “appreciated their courage” for coming forward.

However, a spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church told Sky News that Cardinal O’Brien “contests these claims and is taking legal advice.”

The Observer went on to quote statements filed with the nuncio which said that “Priest A” described being settled in a parish when he claimed he was visited by O’Brien and inappropriate contact between the two took place.

One priest said he was inappropriately approached after night prayers.

Another statement claims that “Priest B” alleges he was starting his ministry in the 1980’s when he was invited to spend a week “getting to know” O’Brien at the archbishop’s residence. He alleges he had to fend off unwanted behavior by the cardinal after a late-night drinking session.

The ex-priest complainant was quoted by The Observer as saying:

“You have to understand the relationship between a bishop and a priest. At your ordination, you take a vow to be obedient to him.”

According to The Independent, Cardinal O’Brien was named “Bigot of the Year” by the gay rights charity Stonewall in 2012 after publicly opposing same sex marriages.

O’Brien, 74, is due to retire next month but is entitled to a vote in next month’s conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI when he stands down on February 28.

BBC News reports O’Brien missed Sunday mass in his diocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh while the accusations against him continue to be widely reported.

The complaints against O’Brien, which date back as far as the 1980’s, come on the heels of the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi’s recent strong words asking the media to stop spreading “misinformation” and “gossip” about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation decision.

Meanwhile, 85-year-old Pope Benedict, who is the first pope to resign in 600 years, thanked the St. Peter’s Square crowd today for their “affection” and said his resignation:

“[But this] doesn’t mean abandoning the church. On the contrary, if God asks me, this is because I can continue to serve it with the same dedication and the same love which I have tried to do so until now, but in a way more suitable to my age and to my strength.”

The outgoing Pope also said that God had called him to dedicate himself to “even more to prayer and meditation,” which he will do in a monastery being renovated for him on the grounds behind Vatican City’s ancient walls.

Agence France-Presse reports Italian police estimate around 100,000 people turned out to hear Benedict speak.

No date has yet been set for the start of the conclave of cardinals.