Pope Benedict's decision to resign has set off a round of mudslinging that now appears to have brought down the highest-ranking Catholic leader in Britain.


Cardinal Keith O'Brien (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Cardinal Keith O'Brien says he will not participate in the conclave to elect the next pope after being accused of improper conduct with priests.

O'Brien has also resigned as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, though the Vatican insists that Benedict accepted his resignation purely because he O'Brien is nearing the retirement age of 75.

But O'Brien himself issued a statement today saying he's skipping the conclave to avoid becoming the focus of media attention at a delicate time for the Catholic Church.

It is the first time that a cardinal has recused himself from a conclave because of personal scandal, and comes in the wake of a grass-roots campaign to shame another cardinal, retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, into refraining from participating because of his role protecting sexually abusive priests.

Also today, Benedict changed the rules of the conclave, allowing cardinals to move up the start date if all of them arrive in Rome before the usual 15-day waiting period concludes.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved)