Pope changes law on conclave
Rosary beads featuring Pope Benedict XVI in a shop in Vatican City. Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Pope Benedict has changed Catholic Church law to allow a successor to be elected early, the Vatican said today, as a senior cleric's resignation added to the sense of an institution in crisis.
With just four days left before he steps down, the pope accepted the resignation of Britain's only cardinal elector, Keith O'Brien, after allegations he behaved inappropriately with other priests.
Cardinal O'Brien, who retains his title, denied the allegations and said he was stepping down as archbishop of Edinburgh for health reasons. He said he would not attend the conclave that will select a new pontiff because he did not want media attention to be focused on himself.
His resignation came as the Vatican continues to resist calls by some Catholics to stop other cardinals tainted by sex scandals from taking part.
With the Italian media speculating about conspiracies inside the Vatican that pushed Benedict to resign, the pope's spokesman said a report into leaked papal documents would remain confidential and only be shown to the next pontiff.
The Vatican has accused the Italian media, some of which have called for the 'Vatileaks' report to be made public, of spreading "false and damaging" rumours in an attempt to influence the cardinals as they head to Rome for the conclave.