Cardinal Keith O'Brien has issued a sweeping apology after admitting his sexual conduct had at times "fallen below the standards expected of me".
The cardinal, who was Britain's most senior Catholic cleric, stepped down from his post as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh last week, a day after three priests and a former priest made allegations of "inappropriate" behaviour against him.
In a fresh statement issued by the Catholic Church in Scotland this evening, he asked for forgiveness from those he had "offended". He will now play no part in the public life of the Church north of the border.
The statement said: "In recent days certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them. However, I wish to take this opportunity to admit that there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal. 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."
The Observer newspaper last Sunday reported that three priests and a former priest had complained about Cardinal O'Brien to the Vatican over alleged improper behaviour stretching back 30 years.
The following day it was announced that the cardinal - an outspoken critic of plans to legalise same-sex marriage - would quit his post with immediate effect. His resignation was in fact accepted by the pope on February 18. The cardinal, who initially said he was taking legal advice when the allegations against him first emerged, had been due to retire later this month when he turned 75.
In fresh claims, the former priest who reported Cardinal O'Brien to the Vatican over the allegations attacked the church's response to the complaints. The man, who remains anonymous, said he had been "disappointed" by the Church's reaction. He told the Observer: "There have been two sensations for me this week. One is feeling the hot breath of the media on the back of my neck and the other is sensing the cold disapproval of the church hierarchy for daring to break ranks. I feel like if they could crush me, they would.
"The vacuum the church has created has allowed whimsy and speculation to distort the truth, and the only support I have been offered is a cursory email with a couple of telephone numbers of counsellors hundreds of miles away from me."
Cardinal O'Brien has been one of Scotland's most outspoken opponents of moves to legalise same-sex marriage. Last year his stance earned him the Bigot of the Year award from the gay rights group Stonewall.