Cardinal Keith O'BrienThe seniormost Catholic cleric in Great Britain, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, is being accused of inappropriate behavior by a group of Scottish priests demanding his immediate resignation.

The four men—including one former priest—brought their allegations to the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain, shortly before Pope Benedict announced his resignation on February 11. They claim that if O’Brien, who is scheduled to retire at the end of March, is allowed to participate in the election of a new Pope, their complaints won’t be addressed.

“[The Church] tends to cover up and protect the system at all costs,” said one of the accusers. “The church is beautiful, but it has a dark side and that has to do with accountability. If the system is to be improved, maybe it needs to be dismantled a bit.”

One of the priests alleges that back in 1980, when he was a seminarian and O’Brien was his “spiritual director,” the older man made an inappropriate advance after night prayers. The young priest eventually left the priesthood rather than be under O’Brien’s thumb: “It was assumed I left the priesthood to get married. I did not,” he says. “I left to preserve my integrity.”

The Guardian details other allegations of sexual misconduct by O’Brien:

In a second statement, “Priest A” describes being happily settled in a parish when he claims he was visited by O’Brien and inappropriate contact between the two took place.

In a third statement, “Priest B”… alleges that he found himself dealing with what he describes as unwanted behaviour by the cardinal after a late-night drinking session.

“Priest C” was a young priest the cardinal was counselling over personal problems. Priest C’s statement claims that O’Brien used night prayers as an excuse for inappropriate contact. The cardinal maintained contact with Priest C over a period of time, and the statement to the nuncio’s office alleges that he engineered at least one other intimate situation…

If you’re wondering why these priests didn’t step forward sooner—or sock O’Brien in the jaw for making a move—you might want to consider how the Church works:

“You have to understand,” explains the ex-priest, “the relationship between a bishop and a priest. At your ordination, you take a vow to be obedient to him.

“He’s more than your boss, more than the CEO of your company. He has immense power over you. He can move you, freeze you out, bring you into the fold … he controls every aspect of your life. You can’t just kick him in the balls.”

O’Brien is a rabid opponent of the LGBT community who has said equal marriage in the UK would be “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved.” He also used £150,000 ($230,000) taken from the collection plates of Catholic churches in Scotland to oppose civil marriage for same-sex couples.

The allegations against him come on the heels of rumors that Benedict’s retirement was tied to a brewing scandal about a network of gay priests in the Vatican. Whether O’Brien is linked to this network is unclear.

What do you think—are the wheels coming off the Church as Benedict heads into retirement, or are these just minor grumblings that will be swept away when the new Holy Father is enthroned?

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