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Former Catholic Church leader Cardinal Keith O'Brien dies aged 80

Cardinal Keith O'Brien passed away in hospital in England. Picture by David Cheskin/PA

CO Antrim-born cleric Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the disgraced former head of the Catholic Church in Britain, has died aged 80.

The former Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who resigned in 2013 following allegations of inappropriate conduct, passed away in hospital in England today.

Cardinal O'Brien, originally from Ballycastle, had been in the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor, a nursing home in Newcastle upon Tyne, after breaking his collarbone and suffering a head injury in a fall last month.

He was transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle where he died.

His successor, Archbishop Leo Cushley, gave him the last rites on Friday, on the eve of the cardinal's 80th birthday.

Announcing his death, Archbishop Cushley said: "At 1am on 19 March 2018, his eminence Keith Patrick Cardinal O'Brien, Archbishop Emeritus of St Andrews & Edinburgh, died at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne surrounded by family and friends and fortified by the rites of Holy Church. RIP.

"In life, Cardinal O'Brien may have divided opinion - in death, however, I think all can be united in praying for the repose of his soul, for comfort for his grieving family and that support and solace be given to those whom he offended, hurt and let down."

After rising to become one of Scotland's most famous religious figures, Cardinal O’Brien resigned in February 2013 after three priests and a former priest alleged improper conduct during the 1980s.

He initially contested the allegations but later apologised, saying his sexual conduct had "fallen beneath the standards" expected of him.

Retiring from public life, he said: "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.

"To those I have offended, I apologise and ask forgiveness.

"To the Catholic Church and people of Scotland, I also apologise. 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."

Pope Francis accepted his resignation and said Cardinal O'Brien would not take part in future papal elections, act as papal adviser, or take part in Vatican congregations and councils and would lose other roles as a cardinal.

He retained his title as cardinal despite his misconduct.

Born in Ballycastle in 1938, he moved to Scotland at a young age where he was educated befire being ordained as priest in April 1965.

His first post as an assistant priest was at Holy Cross in Edinburgh and he was ordained as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh in 1985, becoming cardinal in 2003.

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