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Vatican scandals cloud pope's final days

Benedict XVI tells faithful he is not abandoning church by retiring, amid claims of impropriety against UK cardinal.
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2013 14:43
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, left, is among the 116 cardinals eligible to vote for the next pontiff [EPA]

Pope Benedict XVI has given his pontificate's final blessing from his Vatican window to tens of thousands of people gathered at St Peter's Square amid growing controversies swirling around his departure.

Benedict told the crowd that God is calling him to dedicate himself "even more to prayer and meditation'', which he will do in a secluded monastery being renovated for him on the grounds behind Vatican City's ancient walls.

On the same day that the pontiff delivered his address, the UK's Observer newspaper reported that three priests and a former cleric had accused the senior leader of the Catholic church in Britain of committing inappropriate behaviour against them.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien allegedly made the physical advances as far back as three decades ago. 

The allegations against O'Brien come as Roger Mahony, another cardinal, was urged not to take part in the selection of Benedict's successor after being accused of being complicit in protecting abusive priests while he was head of Los Angeles archdiocese, the largest in the US. 

O'Brien and Mahony are among the 116 cardinals eligible to vote for the next leader of the 1.1 billion Catholics around the world, once Benedict resigns on February 28. 

The Observer reported that the four accusers filed their complaints before Vatican ambassador Antonio Mennini.

In one instance, one of the complainants alleged that O'Brien made the advances after a late-night drinking session. 

A spokesman of the cardinal said the allegations have been contested, according to the report. 

Rumour mill

Ever since the pope's resignation, the Vatican has been busy fending off a torrent of negative reports.

Italy's Panorama news weekly and the Repubblica daily said a report by a committee of cardinals into the leaking of confidential papal papers last year, known as "Vatileaks". had uncovered allegations of intrigue, corruption and blackmail inside the Vatican's bureaucracy.

The Vatican's Secretariat of State, effectively the government of the Catholic church, took the unusual step on Saturday of issuing a formal statement condemning "completely false news stories".

Benedict's decision to quit shocked the world, bringing his pontificate to an abrupt end after eight years dominated by the scandal of abuses by priests and his efforts to counter rising secularism in the West. 

He will be only the second pope to resign of his own free will in the church's 2,000-year history, and the first to do so since the Middle Ages.

Security is being arranged for the pope's final general audience in St Peter's on Wednesday, with city officials expecting about 200,000 people to attend.

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