The scandal-hit Catholic Church needs to undergo renewal and reform, the former leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales said as he called for the "pope's own house to be put in order" in the wake of recent troubles.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, retired Archbishop of Westminster, said the successor to Benedict XVI would need to be able to tackle reform of the Roman Curia, the Vatican departments which govern the 1.2 billion-strong global church.
He said: "There is no doubt that today there needs to be renewal in the church, reform in the church and especially of government, how is this next pope going to govern the church? Quite a lot of bishops and cardinals think that it has got to be done perhaps in a more collegial way, in other words, those who rule the church. It is not just the pope who rules the church, it is the pope with the bishops.
"The pope is essential as a centre of unity and truth but he also cannot rule the church without real association with the bishops. As you know, there have been troubles in recent years, and scandals. Well, this has got to be addressed and especially the pope's own house has to be put in order."
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor was speaking after the Catholic Church in Britain was plunged into crisis following the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, amid allegations of "inappropriate" behaviour towards fellow priests. Cardinal O'Brien has denied the allegations and is taking legal advice.
Asked what his initial reaction had been to Cardinal O'Brien's resignation, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said: "Obviously, I was very sad. I do not know anything about the details, I am sure that they will be addressed but certainly I was saddened. I know Cardinal O'Brien well, so I think it has been very sad. I think that what has happened will for him and for the Church in Scotland have been very damaging. But I think Cardinal O'Brien who is a very honest man."
Cardinal O'Brien said he will not travel to Rome to take part in the conclave to elect a new pope in order to avoid becoming a focus of media attention. His decision has left Britain's Roman Catholics with no vote in the conclave as Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, at 80 years old, is ineligible to cast a vote.
Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, said the Cardinal's resignation had not been accelerated because of the allegations originally reported on Sunday.
He told STV News: "The timing is very unfortunate and it does appear as if one has followed the other, which in terms of chronology one has followed the other, but that's not the same as saying one caused the other. When it comes to responding to the allegations I think what he will do is act on his legal advice, and the legal advice at the moment would be to not publicly engage with the detail as it stands of the allegations.
"At this particular point we have to accept that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and the advice would be he will engage in the proper way as and when it's appropriate to do so in the future."