LONDON/VATICAN CITY - Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric resigned as head of the Catholic Church in Scotland with immediate effect on Monday in the wake of claims that he made sexual advances towards priests.
"For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended."
O'Brien had been due to resign on his 75th birthday next month but said the pope had "now decided that my resignation will take effect today". The allegations include claims that one priest received unwanted attention from O'Brien after a late-night drinking session, Britain's Observer newspaper reported on Sunday.
Another priest reportedly claims that O'Brien used night prayers as cover for inappropriate contact. O'Brien has previously angered the gay community with his hardline public stance on homosexuality. He was named "bigot of the year" last year by the gay rights charity Stonewall.
Whereas, Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree on Monday allowing cardinals to bring forward a conclave to elect his successor, as the resignation of a top cardinal and deepening intrigue in the Vatican clouded the run-up to the vote.
"I leave the College of Cardinals the possibility to bring forward the start of the conclave once all cardinals are present," said the pope, who steps down on Thursday.