Cardinal Keith O'Brien Apologizes for Sexual Misconduct

Cardinal said there have been times he acted below "standards expected of me."

March 3, 2013, 2:15 PM

March 3, 2013— -- A top cardinal who resigned last week amid sexual abuse allegations issued an apology today and said there have been times his sexual conduct "has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, 74, the former Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, resigned last week following published reports that he made unwanted sexual advances toward four priests in Scotland in the 1980s.

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 last Sunday.

RELATED: Benedict XVI's Tenure as Pope Ends

The cardinal initially denied the claims, but said last week he would not participate in the conclave to choose the pope's successor because the allegations were a distraction. His immediate resignation was accepted Monday by Pope Benedict XVI.

O'Brien reversed course today, issuing a statement asking for forgiveness.

"In recent days certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them," O'Brien said.

"However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal," he said. "To those I have offended, I apologise and ask forgiveness.

The apology offered no details of the alleged incidents.

O'Brien had been due to retire later this month when he turned 75. He will retain the title of cardinal.

RELATED: Rome Adjusts to Life Without a Pope as Cardinals Prepare for Conclave

As a cardinal under 80 years of age, O'Brien is eligible to attend the conclave to choose the next pope, however he has said he will not join the cardinal electors in Rome.

"I will now spend the rest of my life in retirement. I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland," O'Brien said today.

With his absence, the number of cardinal electors drops to 115. The College of Cardinals is expected to meet Monday to set a date for the conclave, when they will sequester themselves in the Sistine Chapel to vote for the next pope.

ABC News' David Wright contributed to this report.