* No details on where he is going, or why quitting country
* First rejected allegations, then apologised
* Future after penance to be decided with Vatican
(Adds background, quotes, Mexican precedent)
By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY, May 15 Disgraced Cardinal Keith
O'Brien, who resigned as head of the Roman Catholic Church in
Scotland after admitting to sexual misconduct, will leave his
country for months of "prayer and penance", the Vatican said on
A brief Vatican statement did not say where O'Brien, once
Britain's most senior Catholic cleric, was going, or spell out
why he was quitting Scotland.
But it will be hoping the announcement draws a line under an
affair that has added to a sense of crisis in the Catholic
Church as it continues to deal with separate scandals over
sexual abuse of children by priests.
The cardinal resigned as archbishop of St. Andrews and
Edinburgh on February 25 after three priests and one former
priest in Scotland complained about incidents of sexual
misconduct dating back to the 1980s.
O'Brien initially rejected the allegations published in a
British newspaper and said he was seeking legal advice. But he
later apologised for the misconduct.
The Vatican said on Wednesday his departure had been decided
"in agreement with the Holy Father," stopping short of saying if
Pope Francis had ordered O'Brien to go.
O'Brien would leave Scotland for "several months for the
purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer and penance," the Vatican
He would be leaving for the same reasons that he decided not
to participate in the conclave that elected Pope Francis on
March 13, the statement said, without going into further detail.
At the time, O'Brien said he had ruled himself out of the
conclave to avoid focusing media attention on himself.
Earlier this month Scottish media reported that Catholic
leaders in Scotland had asked the Vatican to take action against
O'Brien because his continued presence there would cause further
When he apologised for unspecified acts of sexual misconduct
with adults, O'Brien said he had "fallen below the standards
expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal".
He also promised he would play no further part in the public
life of the church in Scotland.
"Any decision regarding future arrangements for His Eminence
shall be agreed with the Holy See," the Vatican added.
O'Brien's temporary exile, self-imposed or not, makes him
the most prominent Churchman to withdraw for "penance" since
2006, when Pope Benedict ordered Father Marcial Maciel, founder
of the Legionaries of Christ order of priests, to retire to a
life of "prayer and penitence".
Maciel had for years contested accusations that he had
abused seminarians and young men but Benedict forced him out
when a Vatican investigation concluded the allegations were
Maciel died in 2008 and a year later the Legionaries were
forced to admit that he had led a double life. Apart from having
abused seminarians, Maciel secretly fathered children with at
least two women, used drugs, and misused donations.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Heavens)