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Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric, has resigned with immediate effect in the wake of allegations of inappropriate behaviour, he said in a statement on Monday.
O'Brien had announced in November that he was planning to resign in view of his 75th birthday next month, but he said: "The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today, 25 February 2013."
O'Brien, who is leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, added: "Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended."
The cardinal had denied allegations of inappropriate behaviour by three priests and a former priest which were sent to Rome a week before Pope Benedict XVI's shock resignation announcement on February 11.
O'Brien had been due to be Britain's only cardinal to vote on a replacement for Benedict, but confirmed in his resignation statement that he would not be taking part in the conclave.
"I will not join them for this conclave in person," he said. "I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focussed on me -- but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor."
The allegations, dating from the 1980s, include claims that one priest received unwanted attention from the cardinal after a late-night drinking session.
Another priest said that O'Brien used night prayers as cover for inappropriate contact, Britain's Observer newspaper reported.