The Vatican yesterday ordered a disgraced Scottish cardinal to leave Scotland for several months to pray and atone for sexual misconduct, issuing a rare public sanction against a "prince of the church" and the first such punishment meted out by Pope Francis. The Vatican said Keith O'Brien, once Britain's highest-ranking Catholic leader, would leave Scotland for several months of "spiritual renewal, prayer, and penance" for the same reasons he decided not to participate in the conclave that elected Francis pope.
The statement didn't specify that the decision was imposed on O'Brien by the Vatican as punishment, and in fact went out of its way to suggest that the decision was O'Brien's. But in the past, wayward priests have been sanctioned by the Vatican with punishments of "prayer and penance," and the statement made clear Francis supported the move and that the Holy See would decide his future fate. "For a senior church member to be asked to leave the place of his residence for a period of penance and prayer, it's about as a strong a sanction as you can get before the standard canonical penalties about laicization," or being removed from the priesthood, says the head of a Catholic advocacy group.