By Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
LONDON - The United Kingdom's top cardinal, Keith O'Brien, is to step down, effective immediately, according to a statement published on the website of the Scottish Catholic news office.
Cardinal O'Brien, who is the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland and the U.K.'s most senior Roman Catholic, was due to take part in the election of the next pope next month to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, a process known as the "conclave.' He said in a statement that he will not attend.
He is resigning due to allegations surrounding inappropriate behavior toward priests dating from the 1980s. He contests the allegations.
"Approaching the age of seventy-five and at times in indifferent health, I tendered my resignation as Archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh to Pope Benedict XVI some months ago. I was happy to know that he accepted my resignation 'nunc pro tunc' -- (now -- but to take affect later) on 12 November 2012," said Cardinal O'Brien, in the statement.
"I thank Pope Benedict XVI for his kindness and courtesy to me on my own behalf and on behalf of the people of Scotland, I wish him a long and happy retirement."
In an interview with the BBC on Friday, Cardinal O'Brien said he found the prospect of choosing the next pope "almost frightening."
Pope Benedict XVI's resignation takes effect on Thursday. It is not yet clear when the next conclave will begin.