Keith O'Brien could lose Cardinal status

(PA)Cardinal Keith O'Brien stepped down as head of the Scottish Catholic Church following allegations of inappropriate behaviour

Disgraced Cardinal Keith O'Brien could be stripped of his title if fresh complaints over sexual misconduct are further investigated by the Vatican.

The new head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, Archbishop Leo Cushley, recently met with the three priests at the centre of the allegations that resulted in Cardinal O'Brien resigning and leaving Scotland for a period of "prayer and penance".

The priests are reported to have asked him to send certain written complaints against Cardinal O'Brien to the Vatican. These complaints describe the Cardinal as a "sexual predator".

A spokesperson for Archbishop Cushley was quoted in the Scottish Daily Record as saying: "The Archbishop will assist in any way he can to help bring a just and ­equitable conclusion to the matter for all involved. Any decision on further action will be a matter for the Holy See."

Spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, Peter Kearney, told Christian Today the comments were "given in the context of further complaints from priests within the Diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh".

Discussing the processes of what will happen next in the case of Cardinal O'Brien, Mr Kearney said Archbishop Cushley "will accept any material given to him and will pass it on to the appropriate department in Rome".

The accusations all involved advances made by Cardinal O'Brien towards young priests.

In December, one unnamed priest attempted to sue Cardinal O'Brien for sexual misconduct, but the court rejected the case due to the time that had passed since the alleged incidents occurred.

Explaining why cases against Cardinal O'Brien would not be taken up further in Scotland, Mr Kearney said any future action would be a matter for the Holy See because of the seniority of the person involved.

At present, there is no Catholic who outranks Cardinal O'Brien in Scotland, and there is currently no evidence that he his actions were criminal.

A source close to the Vatican was quoted by the Scottish Daily Record saying: "There could be a canonical trial and Pope Francis could ask him to resign from the College of Cardinals and hand back his red hat but I think it's unlikely.

"They may decide not to pursue it on the grounds he has already been forced to resign."

Cardinal O'Brien currently resides at a religious retreat in Cumbria.