Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic Cardinal, has resigned as leader of the Scottish Catholic Church.

He had been accused of ‘unwanted behaviour’ against four priests in separate incidents in the 1980s, but he strongly denies these claims.

Cardinal O’Brien was due to stand down from his post next month due to his age.

But standing down early has meant he will no longer be part of the conclave to select a new Pope, leaving Britain without a representative.

The Scottish Catholic Media Office said that the current Pope, who will himself step down next week, had accepted Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation last Monday, but an announcement of it has only just been made.

The Cardinal said: “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, I thank God.”

Mr O’Brien went on to say that he did not wish to draw media attention away from the appointment of the new Pope and that he wished both the outgoing Pontiff and his successor luck.

“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.” he said.

Allegations were made against Cardinal O’Brien by three priests and one former priest and reported in The Observer.

They all detail various ‘inappropriate contact’ and ‘unwanted behaviour’, with at least one incident having taken place after drinking on Cardinal O’Brien’s part.

The BBC’s World Affairs correspondent, James Robbins, said: “These allegations are harder to bat away than previous claims that other cardinals covered up sex abuse because these directly involved other priests.”