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Pope Benedict XVI to resign at the end of the month.

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Here is an extensive article from the Vancouver Sun's religion columnist Douglas Todd on the background of Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet and how he has come to be considered one of the favourites as the next Pope.

As Todd notes this would be a historic change as there has not been a non-European Pope in 1,500 years.

The odds are strong - seven to two - that Canada will next month become much more famous.

Two big British bookmakers are putting serious money on a Canadian horse: Ladbrokes and PaddyPower are betting that Marc Ouellet, a cardinal from Quebec, could be elected pope at the March conclave.

If that happens, Canada's Catholic roots and its supposedly polite, multi-faith culture will be thrust into the international spotlight.

The interest has already arrived. Popular American satirist Stephen Colbert devoted much of a show last week to mock-complaining that Ouellet would be "too Canadian" (i.e., too nice) to be pope.

When a man is catapulted to the top of a church of 1.2 billion people, unpredictable things happen to him and his country of origin. For good or ill.

A media blitz struck Poland after native son Karol Cardinal Wojtyla became John Paul II in 1978. It happened to Germany when Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

Since John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 1,500 years, the world's Catholics and the mass media had a field day probing the intricacies of Poland, including Wojtyla's battle against Communist influence.

When Germany's turn came, people around the world learned about Ratzinger's nickname, "God's Rottweiler." His connection to the Hitler Youth was dug up, as was Catholicism's struggles with the country's Lutherans and secularists.

So, if Ouellet is elected, what would the world discover about Canada and its Catholic Church?

They would be introduced to a secularized country that's nevertheless been strongly shaped by the Roman Catholic church, by far the country's largest religion.

Four out of 10 Canadians, about 12 million people, claim a Catholic identity.

Outsiders will also find a Catholic Church that has been buffeted by change. It's been hammered by Catholics walking away from their family church, especially in Quebec, where the cardinal's hometown church in the small town of La Motte has been turned into a community centre.

International journalists would also discover the bitter legacy of the aboriginal residential schools, some Catholic-run, that featured abuse by priests, nuns and staff.

The world will also find that Canada's bishops are not generally as confrontational as those elsewhere, whether on abortion, artificial contraception or homosexuality.

If the world's inhabitants start paying attention to Canadian religion, they would also join many here in wondering whether waves of Catholic immigrants are masking big problems in the Roman church. Or whether they will be its salvation.


Before painting a fuller picture of the Catholic scene in Canada, the intense speculation about Ouellet calls for further analysis.

The buzz around the erudite, multilingual 68-year-old is not new. It's been strong for more than a decade.

Three of North America's leading Vatican watchers place Ouellet among the five cardinals most likely to be elected to replace the retiring Benedict.

There has not been a non-European pope in 1,500 years. The three specialists, authors John Allen and David Gibson, and church historian Matthew Bunson, are realists aware of that history.

They know politics play a role in the secret vote.

The Catholic Church is much bigger in Latin America and Africa than in the West, but Europeans control more than half the ballots in the 116-member College of Cardinals. Italian cardinals, out of the last two pope's deference to the Roman church's origins, still hold more than a quarter of the votes.

That's partly why the three specialists agreed four Italian cardinals - Angelo Scola, Angelo Bagnasco, Gianfranco Ravasi and Leonardo Sandri - are among the front-runners for the next pope. The only non-European the Vatican-watchers named to the top five is Ouellet.

Allen, author of best-selling books on the Vatican, argued Ouellet has an edge because he heads the powerful Congregation of Bishops, which chooses bishops around the globe.

"It's a great spot for making friends and influencing people," says Allen.

He also described Ouellet as a veteran in dealing with the secularized West and an intellectual with "a cosmopolitan resumé."

The odds for Ouellet, who speaks six languages, are helped because he once ran a seminary in Latin America, home to 41 per cent of the world's Catholics (compared with the 24 per cent in secularized Europe).

More importantly, media-savvy Ouellet has had top jobs in the Vatican for more than 15 years, which means he's met many of those who will be casting ballots.

The three experts added that Ouellet and Benedict know each other well and are aligned in conservative theological thinking. Ouellet would not be a dramatic change from the Catholic status quo.

Gibson, author of a biography of Pope Benedict, is even more enthusiastic about Ouellet's chances.

Gibson acknowledges a lot of morally persuasive talk suggests the next pope should come from where the church is predominant (Latin America) or rapidly growing (Africa). But Gibson is among those who believe the tradition-bound European cardinals will balk at that, in part because distance means they will simply have had little opportunity to get to know those cardinals.

All of which points to Ouellet as an alluring non-European compromise.

As Gibson explains: "The electors could get a traditional pick (in Ouellet) and still say, 'Hey, we're innovators. We went to North America!'"


What kind of person would the world be getting if Ouellet became pope?

They would, indeed, be getting a somewhat "nice" person, as Colbert worried.

On the Feb. 11 episode of The Colbert Report, Colbert quipped: "Cardinal Marc Ouellet is also a contender, with only one major weakness: He is Canadian."

The Pope cannot be too polite or vague, the funnyman said. It won't work for Ouellet as pope to say: "Sorry, but I think: 'God might not want you to use a condom, eh.'" But, really, how nice is Ouellet?

I found him friendly and genteel in 2003 when I interviewed him in Rome for a profile.

He smiles easily when he's in the media spotlight, which he seems to accept reluctantly. As the third of eight children born to a middle-class family in rural Quebec, he is no stranger to family dramas.

Two of his sisters have divorced and one brother was convicted of sexual assault involving a minor. When I asked him about the divorces, he seemed to show a pastoral side.

Despite his agreeable image, Ouellet is no pushover. As a youth, he played hockey and fought forest fires. He is smart, highly educated and canny enough to prosper at the highest levels in the labyrinthine corridors of the Vatican.

Ouellet also has convictions of steel. And he's willing to calmly but firmly share the Vatican's conservative positions against homosexuality, female priests, married priests, divorce, abortion and contraception.

He knows most Canadians disagree with him. He's used to a country where most residents no longer stand in awe of Catholic authority. And where many, especially in Quebec, mock it.

Since the church in La Motte became a community centre, only 25 people show up in the building on Sunday for a makeshift mass.

Most of his siblings aren't practising the faith.

One of Ouellet's brothers, Roch, was recently quoted saying the Catholic Church must learn not to try to impose itself on people who seek freedom.

So, other than a public outcry in Quebec over Ouellet's declaration that abortion is a moral crime even in the case of rape, he has generally learned to avoid heavy-handed pronouncements.


The head of the history department at Simon Fraser University, Hilmar Pabel, says Ouellet reflects "a very Canadian church, especially when compared with the U.S.

"The stereotype of the Canadian church is that it's always nice. It doesn't rock the boat so much. It doesn't blow its own horn like the American church," says Pabel, a practising Catholic.

Canadian bishops tend to avoid in-your-face conservative stands like those taken by the New York cardinal, Timothy Dolan, said Pabel. Before the 2012 presidential elections, Dolan led an aggressive national campaign against a new regulation stipulating employees of religious institutions receive contraceptive health coverage.

Canada's bishops, working in part through the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, often highlight a different approach - and different issues.

"They have a pretty high profile in social justice around the world," including for poverty reduction and against oppression, Pabel said. "The church does this in a very modest and respectful way."


It's far too strong to say the Catholic Church is in crisis in Canada. But there is unease and unpredictable change.

Most of it has to do with sexual scandal, views on sex and gender that offend liberals and secularists, and homegrown Canadians turning their back on the Catholic fold.

The flip side is that Canadian-born Catholics are being replaced by immigrants, typically from Asia.

So are most Canadian-born priests. Imported clergy, hailing from places as different as Poland and Vietnam, are commonplace throughout the country.

Does that make the Canadian Catholic Church "cosmopolitan?" It's one of the words experts are using to describe Ouellet's strengths. It's a quality Ouellet has no doubt gained in part by his roots in multicultural Canada.

As pope, a Canadian cardinal has a better chance than most cardinals of understanding the world's far-flung Catholics, because the world, through increased immigration, has already arrived in this country.


The days of Catholic bishops calling the political shots in Canada faded after the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 1960s.

Even though six of eight of Canada's last prime ministers have been Catholic, they were all small-l liberals, especially on sexual morality. They brought in freedom-oriented laws on divorce, artificial contraception, abortion and homosexuality.

Still, signs of Catholic influence remain. Because of a constitutional grandfather clause, Catholic schools get preferential financing from governments in many provinces, such as Ontario, much to the consternation of Protestant and minority religions.

Some would argue Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an evangelical Protestant from Calgary, is more sympathetic to Catholic conservative morality than previous national leaders. But Harper has shown no readiness to roll back laws on such things as abortion.

The Catholic Church has a strange relationship to the Conservative government. In a twist of loyalties, key federal cabinet ministers have on occasion created conflicts with Canadian Catholic bishops.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a conservative Catholic from Calgary, has referred to some members of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as "ideological bureaucrats." That was while he was cutting government funding to KAIROS, a social-justice group in part sponsored by the Canadian bishops. It's been critical, among other things, of Alberta's oilsands.

Other Conservative cabinet ministers have been rebuked by the Canadian Catholic media for going against their own staff's advice and chopping grants to the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, which funds aid programs around the world.

Given this multi-faceted political context, Canadian Catholic bishops rarely join U.S. bishops in taking fiery stands in the so-called culture wars.

The main exception might be their high-profile resistance to assisted suicide.

Even though polls consistently show more than two out of three Canadians would support regulated assisted suicide, the only province pushing to make it legal is Quebec, Ouellet's home province.


The world will find a paradox in regards to Catholic Church attendance in this country. The census suggests four out of 10 Canadians still identify as Catholics. But in the past few decades, the church has lost a tremendous number of adherents, especially in Quebec.

As in the U.S., where the Pew Forum has found one in three baptized Catholics now consider themselves "former" members of the faith, many people born in Canada entirely reject the faith of their youth.

Even among those who continue to declare loyalty, pollster Reginald Bibby has learned that fewer than one in three of those who identify as Catholic show up in the pews once a month or more, with only 19 per cent doing so in Quebec. What has been a windfall for the Church here, however, is Canada's policy of high immigration. Since 2005, a growing number of the roughly 260,000 newcomers who arrive in Canada each year have been Catholic - 30 per cent of all immigrants, according to Bibby.

The largest group of Catholic immigrants (and of Catholic temporary foreign workers), is from the Philippines, followed to a lesser extent by Catholics from France, Colombia, India, Mexico and East Asia.

Their presence in Canada is masking how many have already walked away from the Catholic Church.


While he was Pope, Benedict never made it to Canada. However, he did travel in 2008 to the U.S., where he apologized for his priests' role in the sex abuse scandal.

High-level Catholic leaders, including New York's Dolan, have admitted to covering up chronic abuse.

Catholic officials have admitted there have been, since the 1950s, more than 6,100 accused U.S. priests.

What's different in Canada? The debacle over sex abuse by priests exploded in the U.S. in the past 15 years.

But Canadian bishops had brought in measures to curtail it during the early 1990s, as hundreds of priests, brothers and Catholic school staff were being convicted of molestation.

They had to respond to Catholic abuse cases that came out of Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland and from survivors of now-defunct Catholic-run residential schools, which housed and educated more than 100,000 aboriginals during the 20th century.

The Canadian Catholic Church, as a whole, has received widespread criticism for refusing to formally apologize for abuse at the schools.


Canada's bishops are just as conservative on sexual issues as the Vatican, at least publicly. But that has not entirely stopped quiet outbreaks of free expression in the Canadian Catholic Church.

The Catholic Register newspaper ran a glowing piece in February on a new play about the popular Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), who was officially condemned by the Vatican for his evolutionary mysticism.

Retired Victoria bishop Remi De Roo was reprimanded by both Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II for his progressive views on female and married priests.

But De Roo continues to attract solid audiences in Canada and beyond when he talks about the threats to the ecumenical reforms of Vatican II.

The Canadian Catholic Church is no hotbed of moral liberalism on the usual hot-button issues related to abortion, female priests or homosexuality.

But there are signs of ideological diversity across the country.

Some of the range of viewpoints can be found in the bad blood that exists among conservative and liberal Catholics in Canada. Through various media forums, conservative Catholic critics in Canada frequently scoff at moderate-liberal Catholics, such as the internationally known theologian Gregory Baum.

They recently attacked the retired McGill University professor for questioning the Vatican's stand against artificial contraception and support for homosexual Catholics. But, during the same time, Baum was the subject of a profile on Salt + Light TV, which has been endorsed by leading Catholic organizations.

The Canadian Catholic publisher, Novalis, also features the work of thinkers who would not always please a pope.

And, even while Catholic bishops in many parts of the world, including the U.S., are often linked to rightwing politicians, some Canadian bishops have been critics of unrestrained capitalism.

One of the latest was Yukon Bishop Gary Gordon, who said the proposed Gateway pipeline through B.C. symbolizes humans' sinful hunger for wealth and ever-greater consumption.

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And now the Vatican has its panties in a bunch over what is considers sensationalist media reports.

The Vatican lashed out Saturday at the media for what it said has been a run of defamatory and false reports before the conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI's successor, saying they were an attempt to influence the election.

Italian newspapers have been rife with unsourced reports in recent days about the contents of a secret dossier prepared for the Pope by three cardinals who investigated the origins of the 2012 scandal over leaked Vatican documents.

The reports have suggested the revelations in the dossier, given to Benedict in December, were a factor in his decision to resign. The Pope himself has said merely that he doesn't have the "strength of mind and body" to carry on.

On Saturday, a day before Benedict's final Sunday blessing in St. Peter's Square, the Vatican secretariat of state said the Catholic Church has for centuries insisted on the independence of its cardinals to freely elect their pope -- a reference to episodes in the past when kings and emperors vetoed papal contenders or prevented cardinals from voting outright.

"If in the past, the so-called powers, i.e., States, exerted pressures on the election of the pope, today there is an attempt to do this through public opinion that is often based on judgments that do not typically capture the spiritual aspect of the moment that the church is living," the statement said.

"It is deplorable that as we draw closer to the time of the beginning of the conclave ... that there be a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions."

It was issued as Benedict met for the last time with the Vatican bureaucracy before stepping down Feb. 28. The occasion was the final session of the Vatican's Lenten spiritual retreat, a weeklong series of meditations composed by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, himself a papal contender.

'Careerism, jealousies' denounced

In one of his final meditations Friday, Ravasi denounced the "divisions, dissent, careerism, jealousies" that afflict the Vatican bureaucracy — divisions that were exposed by the leaks of documents taken from the Pope's study. The documents revealed the petty wrangling, corruption and cronyism and even allegations of a gay plot at the highest levels of the Catholic Church.

The three cardinals who investigated the theft of the documents had wide-ranging powers to interview even cardinals to get to the bottom of the dynamics within the Curia — the Vatican bureaucracy — that resulted in the gravest Vatican security breach in modern times.

Benedict has referred obliquely to the Vatican's dysfunction in recent days, deploring how the church is often "defiled" by attacks and divisions and urging its members to overcome "pride and egoism."

On Saturday, in his final comments to the Curia, he lamented the "evil, suffering and corruption" that has defaced God's creation. But he also thanked the Vatican bureaucrats for eight years of work, love and faith and promised them he would continue to be spiritually close to them in retirement.

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The latest report on what might have compelled Benny #16 to resign as Pope. And one of the reasons that the Vatican is ranting about the media.

Of all the rumors floating around about just why Pope Benedict XVI is hanging up his camauro, one has taken on a life of its own. According to several well-placed vaticanisti—or Vatican experts—in Rome, Benedict is resigning after being handed a secret red-covered dossier that included details about a network of gay priests who work inside the Vatican, but who play in secular Rome. The priests, it seems, are allegedly being blackmailed by a network of male prostitutes who worked at a sauna in Rome’s Quarto Miglio district, a health spa in the city center, and a private residence once entrusted to a prominent archbishop. The evidence reportedly includes compromising photos and videos of the prelates—sometimes caught on film in drag, and, in some cases, caught “in the act.”

Revelations about the alleged network are the basis of a 300-page report supposedly delivered to Benedict on December 17 by Cardinals Julian Herranz, Joseph Tomko, and Salvatore De Giorgi. According to the press reports, it was on that day that Benedict XVI decided once and for all to retire, after toying with the idea for months. He reportedly closed the dossier and locked it away in the pontifical apartment safe to be handed to his successor to deal with. According to reports originally printed by La Repubblica newspaper and the newsweekly Panorama (and followed up across the gamut of the Italian media), the crimes the cardinals uncovered involved breaking the commandments “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” the latter of which has been used in Vatican-speak to also refer to homosexual relations instead of the traditional reference to infidelity.

The trio of cardinals who authored the report, known in the Italian press as the “007 Priests,” were commissioned by Benedict to dig into the Vatileaks scandal that rocked the Holy See last fall when the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was convicted of stealing secret papal documents and leaking them to the press. The sleuthing cardinals ran a parallel investigation to the Vatican tribunal’s criminal case against the butler, but theirs was far more covert and focused not on the mechanics of the leaks, but on who within the Roman Curia might be the brains behind them. And, according to the leaked reports, what the “007 Priests” found went far beyond the pope’s private desk. “What’s coming out is very detailed X-ray of the Roman Curia that does not spare even the closest collaborators of the Pope,” wrote respected Vatican expert Ignazio Ingrao in Panorama. “The Pope was no stranger to the intrigues, but he probably did not know that under his pontificate there was such a complex network and such intricate chains of personal interests and unmentionable relationships.”

The existence of a gay-priest network outside the fortified walls of Vatican City is hardly news, and many are wondering if it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of sex scandals. In 2010, investigative journalist Carmello Abbate went undercover with a hidden camera to write a shocking exposé called “Good Nights Out for Gay Priests”.

Abbate caught the priests on hidden camera dirty dancing at private parties and engaging in sex acts with male escorts on church property. He also caught them emerging from dark bedrooms just in time to celebrate mass. In one postcoital scene, a priest parades around seminaked, wearing only his clerical vestments. “This is not about homosexuality,” Abbate told The Daily Beast when he published the exposé. “This is about private vices and public virtues. This is about serious hypocrisy in the Catholic Church.”

Because so much of the secret lives of gay priests is actually not so secret thanks to Abbate’s exposé and subsequent book, Sex and the Vatican, many are wondering what else could be hidden in the alleged red-covered dossier. Vatican elite have also been loosely tied to a number of other secular scandals during Benedict’s tenure, including the ultra-tawdry affair between former Lazio governor Piero Marrazzo and several transvestite prostitutes, including one named “Brenda” who was found burned to death in 2009. At the time that Marrazzo’s relationships with the transvestites were discovered, his driver reportedly told investigators that several high-ranking priests and even cardinals were customers of Rome’s elite transsexual circuit, though no proof was ever provided and no one has ever been arrested tied to the transsexual prostitution circuit. Nor has anyone mentioned whether reference to these crimes might also be in the dossier. But Marrazzo was whisked off to the Vatican-owned Monte Cassino abbey south of Rome to do his penance, and he even wrote a letter to Vatican Secretary of State Tarciso Bertone asking for Pope Benedict XVI’s forgiveness.

Whatever secrets the red binders supposedly hold will have to remain just that until the next pope is elected. But Ingrao believes its contents are so important that the dossier will be like the 118th cardinal in the conclave. “Many new skeletons from the closets of the cardinals could come out until the beginning of the conclave,” says Ingrao. “Many voters know or claim to know the secrets of their brothers, but it is already clear that the new pope who leaves the Sistine Chapel will have to be scandal-free in order to proceed with cleaning up [what] Ratzinger has left for his successor.”

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And more fall-out for priests behaving badly - with each other this time.

UK Cardinal Keith O'Brian has withdrawn from papal conclave (aka the 2013 running of the Papal Sweepstakes to replace Benny # 16) amid accusations of improper behaviour with other priests.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Britain's highest-ranking Catholic leader, recused himself on Monday from taking part in the conclave to elect the next pope after being accused of improper conduct with priests — an unprecedented first head to roll in the mudslinging that has followed Pope Benedict XVI's decision to resign.

O'Brien also resigned as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, though the Vatican insisted that Benedict accepted his resignation purely because he was nearing the retirement age of 75 — not because of the accusations. But O'Brien himself issued a statement Monday saying he would skip the conclave because he didn't want to become the focus of media attention at such a delicate time for the Catholic Church.

O'Brien has said through his spokesman that he is contesting allegations made Sunday in a British newspaper that three priests and a former priest had filed complaints to the Vatican alleging that the cardinal acted inappropriately with them. The Observer newspaper did not name the priests, but it said their allegations date back to the 1980s. There were no details about the alleged inappropriate behaviour.

It is the first time a cardinal has recused himself from a conclave because of personal scandal. It 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.

Mahony, however, has defiantly said he would participate in the voting for the new pope.

The difference in cases boils down to the fact that O'Brien himself was accused of improper behaviour, whereas Mahony has been shown to have covered up for other priests who raped and molested children — a distinction that has long shielded bishops accused of coverup from Vatican sanction.

Several other cardinals who will elect the next pope have been accused — and some have even admitted — to having failed to protect children from abusive priests; if all of them were to recuse themselves for negligence, the College of Cardinals would shrink by quite a few members.

Nevertheless, the O'Brien decision sets an historic precedent, said Terrence McKiernan of, an online database of records on clergy abuse cases.

"It is a public demonstration of the role that clerics with inside information can have in bringing accountability to a church where secrecy has led to a crisis of sexual misconduct," he said. "Cardinals who are tainted by the crisis cannot choose the person who will solve it."

With O'Brien's decision and the decision of a frail Indonesian cardinal to stay home, there are expected to be 115 cardinals under age 80 who are eligible to vote in the conclave.

Separately Monday, 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 between the end of one pontificate and the start of the conclave. It was one of his last acts as pope before resigning Thursday.

The date of the conclave's start is important because Holy Week begins March 24 and Easter Sunday is March 31. In order to have a new pope in place for the church's most solemn liturgical period, he would need to be installed by Sunday, March 17, a tight timeframe if a conclave were to start on March 15, as per the previous rules.

And in another development Monday, Benedict decided that the contents of a secret investigation into the 2012 leaks of Vatican documents won't be shared with the cardinals ahead of the conclave. Benedict met Monday with the three elderly cardinals who conducted the probe and decided that "the acts of the investigation, known only to himself, remain solely at the disposition of the new pope," a Vatican statement said.

Speculation has been rife in the Italian media that the three cardinals — Julian Herranz, Jozef Tomko and Salvatore De Giorgi — would be authorized to share the information with fellow cardinals before the conclave. That assumed the cardinal electors would want to know details about the state of dysfunction in the Vatican bureaucracy and on any potentially compromised colleagues before possibly voting one into office.

Benedict appointed the three men last year to investigate the origins of leaks, which revealed petty wrangling, corruption, cronyism and even allegations of a gay plot at the highest levels of the Catholic Church. The pope's butler was convicted of aggravated theft in October for having stolen the papers and given them to a journalist who then published them in a blockbuster book.

While the three cardinals cannot share the full contents of their investigation, it's unclear if they could give subtle hints about potential papal candidates to the electors. The Vatican's assertion that only the pope knew the contents of the dossier was a clear message to readers of Italian newspapers, which have run several articles purporting to know the contents of the report.

O'Brien's decision to remain home rather than participate in the conclave made him the first head to roll in the remarkable two weeks since Benedict, 85, stunned the world and announced he was becoming the first pope in 600 years to resign. The pope said he simply didn't have the "strength of mind and body" to carry on.

It marked a dramatic end to a career that got off to a rocky start when in 2003, as a condition of being made a cardinal, he was forced to issue a public pledge to defend church teaching on homosexuality, celibacy and contraception. He was pressured to make the pledge after he had called for a "full and open discussion" on such matters.

At the time, O'Brien said he had been misunderstood and wanted to clarify his position. But it's clear now he never really changed his mind; On Friday, three days before his resignation was made public, O'Brien told the BBC that celibacy should be reconsidered since it's not based on doctrine but rather church tradition and "is not of divine origin."

It appeared to be something of a parting shot, reasserting beliefs that he had kept quiet for a decade.

At home, at O'Brien's St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh, his decision was met with shock and disbelief.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions here and I am unhappy about that people can make such serious charges while remaining anonymous," said David Murphy, 52, an administrator from Edinburgh. "It's like he's been hounded out of office without a proper chance to defend himself."

But Peter Mitchell, 32, a church-goer from Fife, conceded that the church may have to brace itself for scandal. "These don't appear to be random allegations, we are talking about three serving priests who are being very specific and I don't think they would lie in this way."

O'Brien said in a statement that he was in "indifferent health" and had offered his resignation last November — a statement confirmed by the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi.

Lombardi said the pope had merely acted on it now as he clears up his final tasks before stepping down. Usually the pope waits until after the 75th birthday to accept a resignation; in this case Benedict acted a few weeks shy of O'Brien's March 17 birthday.

"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," O'Brian said in his statement. He said he would pray for the cardinals in Rome but that he himself would not participate.

"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 said. "However, I will pray with them and for them that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they will make the correct choice for the future good of the church."

During a briefing with reporters at the Vatican last week, a Vatican historian, Ambrogio Piazzoni, was asked about the campaign to keep Mahony away from the voting because he covered up sexual abuse by priests. Piazzoni said while in the past some cardinals have been impeded either by illness or by interference from their governments, none has stayed away because of a stain on his own reputation.

"The thing that characterizes a cardinal is to be an elector of the pope," he told reporters then.' rel="external nofollow">

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as a person suspicious of all religion, I am following this pope election because Marc Ouellet is in the running.

i see this as just political event, and so it interests me to see a Canadian winning this.

bookies have him 7-2 odds, the Guinea one 3-1.

scroll down for video.

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Inasmuchas it's such a high and holy appointment you'd think God himself would be naming his chosen spokesperson on earth. At least send Jr. back to do the honors. And with technology the way it is now there's really no excuse. The Big Guy could at least lower himself to Skype or text with the Vatican. The very idea of mere mortals VOTING for their choice smacks of political manipulations and payoffs. Surely there's a better way. Like maybe a test of faith involving man eating lions or somesuch.

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as a person suspicious of all religion, I am following this pope election because Marc Ouellet is in the running.

i see this as just political event, and so it interests me to see a Canadian winning this.

bookies have him 7-2 odds, the Guinea one 3-1.  

scroll down for video.

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Quick question. Is the Pope Mobile the original or has it changed over the years. If not, it probably qualifies for collectors plates.

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<br />

Quick question. Is the Pope Mobile the original or has it changed over the years. If not, it probably qualifies for collectors plates.<br />

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not sure who makes the one he parades in, but as for the cars, I know during JPs time BMW supplied the Vatican with 7 series.

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Cabin: Bullet proof plexiglass able to withstand explosions, with built-in oxygen supply.

That's pretty hardcore. Is it used to transport the Pope or cross enemy lines?

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