The most senior Catholic cleric in Britain has resigned after accusations that he behaved inappropriately towards several priests three decades ago.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien contests the claims, but said Pope Benedict had agreed that his resignation, as the head of the Church in Scotland, would take effect immediately. He will not take part in electing a new pope.
Cardinal O'Brien said in a statement on Monday he had already tendered his resignation as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, to take effect when he turned 75 next month, but the pope had decided it would take effect that day.
The statement said:
"Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended.
"I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me - but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor.
The Observer reported that the three priests and one former priest from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, complained to the Pope's representative to Britain, nuncio Antonio Mennini, the week before 11 February.
Cardinal O'Brien is an outspoken opponent of gay marriage.