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Disgraced former cardinal O'Brien may be buried in his Ballycastle

By Donna Deeney

The disgraced former head of the Catholic Church in Scotland could be laid to rest in his home town of Ballycastle.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien (80) passed away yesterday died after a fall in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he had been living since his spectacular fall from grace as one of the most powerful religious figures in the UK's Catholic Church.

O'Brien had been outspoken in his opposition to homosexuality and branded a bigot for his anti-gay comments.

But he was forced to resign from his position as Archbishop of St Andrew's and Edinburgh in 2013 amid allegations of sexual misconduct by four adult males.

While he initially denied the allegations made against him - which dated back to the 1980s and were revealed after an investigation by the Observer newspaper - he later admitted they were true.

He stepped down from his powerful position after sending a letter of resignation to Pope Benedict, which was accepted.

His death, which followed a fall on Friday, was announced by his predecessor, Archbishop of St Andrew's and Edinburgh Leo Cushley, who had administered the Last Rites to O'Brien.

Archbishop Cushley asked for prayers for the repose of the former Cardinal's soul and for those he hurt during his life. He posted on his Twitter account: "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 hurt and let down. May he rest in peace."

While funeral arrangements will be handled by the Church in Scotland and have yet to be finalised, O'Brien was born in Ballycastle where his family originated and still has links to.

Normally the death of a high-ranking member of the Catholic hierarchy is an occasion of pomp and ceremony; however, it is unlikely this will be afforded to Cardinal O'Brien given his damaged reputation.

Kevin McKenna, from The Observer, said: "An awful lot of Catholics felt let down and betrayed by Cardinal O'Brien and he stepped away and was forced to resign from all his duties.

"I don't imagine his funeral will be a big affair or a big public occasion but it may be that he could come back to Ireland to his family's parish."

A spokesman for Down and Connor Diocese said he was unaware of the funeral arrangements for Cardinal O'Brien.

He said: "There are no details through yet for his funeral arrangements."

It is known that Cardinal O'Brien did return to Ireland for a period of time after fleeing Scotland in shame in 2013 when he admitted the allegations against him were true.

His four accusers - three priests and a former priest from the Diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh - made their complaint to papal nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican's ambassador to Britain at the time, demanding O'Brien's immediate resignation and that he be stripped of his title.

But while O'Brien did resign he still retained his title of Cardinal.

In a letter of resignation he said: "My sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal. I have valued the opportunity of serving the people of Scotland and overseas in various ways since becoming a priest.

"Looking back over my years of ministry, for any good I have been able to do, I thank God.

"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."

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