Cardinal’s scandal threatens to overshadow Pope Benedict’s final days

Posted at 9:10 PM, Feb 25, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-25 21:10:16-05

As Pope Benedict XVI prepares to step down this week, he issues a major change to the conclave rules, as another sex scandal rocks the Vatican.

Scotland’s archbishop, 74-year-old cardinal Keith O’Brien, is at the center of the latest storm clouds over the Vatican.

British papers are reporting cardinal O’Brien, the top Scottish cleric – and the only British cardinal eligible for the conclave – has resigned, after being accused by four priests – three current, and one former – of abusing them while they studied under him during the ’80’s.

Cardinal O’Brien did not attend mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday, which is unusual.  A spokesperson said the cardinal will contest the allegations.

This latest scandal follows a growing buzz in the Italian media about claims that a network of gay Vatican clergy, including cardinals, is being blackmailed by a network of male prostitutes.

The Vatican has vehemently denied these allegations, calling them deplorable, invented, unverifiable, or completely false.

Some believe the pope, who delivered his final Sunday prayer before tens of thousands in St. Peters square yesterday, resigned, not because he feels too old and sick, as he claims, but because he is sickened by these growing rumors.

To complicate things further, the pope today changed the rules of the conclave that will elect his successor, allowing cardinals to move up the start date if they all arrive in Rome before the usual 15 day transition period.

The date of the conclave’s start is important because holy week starts march 24, with Easter Sunday march 31.  To have a new pope in place for the church’s most solemn liturgical period, the new pope would need to be installed by March 17, a tight timeframe if a conclave were to start March 15.

When the pope leaves the papacy Thursday, he will be the first pope to resign since 1415.