Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, who resigned as head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland after admitting sexual misconduct, is heading to the Vatican for months of "prayer and penance".

Cardinal Keith Patrick O'Brien, who resigned as head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland after admitting sexual misconduct, is heading to the Vatican for months of

Cardinal O'Brien was Britain's most senior Catholic cleric until his resignation in February.

He originally denied allegations made against him by four men, but said in March that his actions had fallen below the standards expected of him as a priest.

He stepped down after allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards three priests and a former priest dating back to the 1980s were printed in a national newspaper.

In a statement issued by the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland on 4 March, the cardinal said he had initially contested what he called the "anonymous and non-specific" allegations made against him.

But he added: "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 ... I will play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland."

The cardinal had been due to retire by the end of March when he turned 75. He did not play a part in the conclave that elected Pope Francis in March.

Cardinal O'Brien has been one of Scotland's most outspoken opponents of moves to legalise same-sex marriage. Last year his stance earned him the bigot of the year award from the gay rights group Stonewall.

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