Cardinal Keith O'Brien was Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic (Reuters)
Cardinal Keith O'Brien was Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic (Reuters)

Four priests who accused Scotland's Cardinal Keith O' Brien of "inappropriate behaviour" have spoken of their vindication after he admitted that his sexual conduct fell "below the standards expected" of him.

A week after Britain's most senior Roman Catholic resigned despite denying allegations against him, which stretched back more than 30 years, O'Brien  admitted at times committing sexual misconduct.

Catherine Deveney, the journalist who broke the story in the Observer that three priests and one former priest reported O'Brien to the Vatican, said the complainants were "relieved at being vindicated".

O'Brien said: "In recent days certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them.

"However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.

"To those I have offended, I apologise and ask forgiveness. To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologise."

O'Brien, 74, is reported to be facing a Vatican inquiry. It is unlikely to start until a new pope has been chosen. O'Brien was originally set to take part in the conclave in Rome to elect a new pontiff.

Deveney told the BBC's Today programme that the four priests at the centre of the accusations have displayed mixed emotions towards O'Brien since his confession.

She said: "There is obvious sadness for Keith O'Brien as a man, but this wasn't about just Keith O'Brien the man but about Keith O'Brien the cardinal.

"So there is a mixture of sadness, a bit of relief they have been vindicated and I a little bit of anger that it took all of this to get to where we are.

"One of the individuals concerned said that to take the cardinal on as an individual himself would have been like running into a brick wall.

"These are not men who are trying to bring down the Church - they have given their lives to the Church. Forgiveness and redemption are their kind of language."

Among the allegations was that the cardinal made an inappropriate approach to one former priest in 1980. A second priest accused him of inappropriate contact when he came to visit him at a parish.

A third described how O'Brien was guilty of "unwanted behaviour" towards him after he had been drinking and a fourth said the cardinal used night prayers as an excuse for "inappropriate contact".