Britain's top cardinal, Keith O'Brien, has decided not to participate in the upcoming papal election following published reports that he made unwanted sexual advances toward four priests in Scotland in the 1980s.
"I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focused on me, but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor," O'Brien, who will retain the title of cardinal, said in a statement today.
The Scottish cardinal, 74, is the latest voting member of the College of Cardinals to be tainted by scandal but the first to recuse himself from the conclave.
O'Brien has been accused of committing "inappropriate acts" in his relations with three priests and one former priest from the diocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, British newspaper The Observer reported Sunday. O'Brien has been an outspoken opponent of gay rights.
He denied the allegations over the weekend and said in the statement today, "Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologize to all whom I have offended."
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Ireland's Cardinal Sean Brady have also faced pressure to bow out of the conclave on the grounds that their moral authority has been compromised because of the church sex-abuse scandal.
Documents from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles show that Mahoney covered up for pedophile priests.
President Obama's former ambassador to the Holy See, Miguel Diaz, this weekend called on Mahony to bow out of the conclave.
"Just like everyone else, Cardinal Mahony should reflect on the example set by the pope," Diaz told La Stampa's Vatican Insider.
Pope Benedict issued new rules about the timing and procedures of the vote to choose his successor.
He can do that by decree. The pope is an absolute monarchy.
The decree, known as a motu proprio (Latin for "of his own impulse"), is expected to allow cardinals to convene the conclave sooner than the March 15 date that would have been required under the rules issued by the late Pope John Paul II.
The new rules could also include other revisions to the process.
Such revisions come at a time when the Vatican is struggling to preserve the sanctity of the papal election amid a variety of scandals -- real and imagined.