Scottish cardinal steps down ahead of conclave

One member of the College of Cardinals will sit out next month’s papal conclave — but it’s not the one you might have expected.  Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien abruptly retired as Archbishop overnight after several priests in his diocese leveled accusations of inappropriate sexual advances toward them.  O’Brien also declined to take part in the conclave, although he technically remained eligible to do so:

Cardinal Keith O’Brien says he will be skipping the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI after resigning as archbishop in the wake of misconduct allegations.

The cardinal said in a statement issued Monday that he will not attend because he doesn’t want media attention focused on him during the important session in Rome.

O’Brien would have reached the mandatory age at which to offer his retirement on St. Patrick’s Day, 75, although the Pope is not obliged to accept retirement requests.  The Vatican will accept it in this instance, and is treating it as a normal retirement.  O’Brien has said he will fight the allegations, which is likely why the Vatican made no mention of them in their statement:

O’Brien has said he is contesting allegations in a British newspaper that three priests and a former priest have filed complaints to the Vatican alleging that the cardinal acted inappropriately with them.

Meanwhile, pressure continues to build on Cardinal Roger Mahony to make the same decision and skip the conclave.  He spent almost four hours answering questions in a deposition on Saturday over his role in keeping law enforcement away from priests suspected of sexual abuse, this time focusing on recently-released records from his tenure as Archbishop of Los Angeles:

A “relatively unflappable” Cardinal Roger Mahony answered questions under oath for more than 3 1/2 hours Saturday about his handling of clergy sex abuse cases, according to the lawyer who questioned the former archbishop.

“He remained calm and seemingly collected at all times,” said attorney Anthony De Marco, who represents a man suing the Los Angeles Archdiocese over abuse he alleges he suffered at the hands of a priest who visited his parish in 1987.

Mahony has been deposed many times in the past, but Saturday’s session was the first time he had been asked about recently released internal church records that show he shielded abusers from law enforcement.

With all of this and more happening over the weekend, the outgoing Pope Benedict XVI has lots of reasons to move up the papal conclave and get new leadership in place in an expedited manner.  According to Catholic News Agency/EWTN, the modification of canon law may come as soon as tomorrow, and could move the start of the conclave up as much as a week:

Pope Benedict XVI will issue a motu proprio on Feb. 25, clearing the way for the College of Cardinals to choose a date in early March to begin the conclave for electing his successor.

According to sources at the Vatican, Pope Benedict plans to publish a declaration on Monday that will enable the cardinals to select a date that is early than the 15-day waiting period currently required by Church law. …

The primary item that will be addressed is the timing of the conclave. John Paul II’s “Universi Dominici Gregis” established that it should not be sooner than 15 days after the death of the Pope, but the case of an abdication with advanced notice was not foreseen. There are also housekeeping items such as securing the Pope’s belongings and other points of procedure.

According to Michael Potemra at The Corner, the conclave may end up starting between March 9th-11th.