The spiritual head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland has resigned from his post the day after rejecting allegations that he behaved in an "inappropriate" way with priests.
"The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today, 25 February 2013," Cardinal Keith O'Brien, said in a statement.
"I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focussed on me – but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his successor."
He later confirmed that he now does not expect to take part in the conclave to choose the next Pope, following the recent resignation of Benedict XVI.
Cardinal O'Brien is Britain's most senior Catholic cleric, and has been outspoken in his opposition to homosexuality, women's reproductive rights, women priests, and open sex education in schools.
However, his last public statement questioned the Catholic Church's long-standing imposition of mandatory celibacy on priests. This change of heart has been overshadowed by the allegations made public this weekend by two retired and one serving priest.
The allegations are as yet untested and unproven, but cast yet another shadow over a crisis-laden Church reeling from global abuse scandals.
Cardinal O'Brien had been reported to the Vatican over allegations of inappropriate behaviour stretching back 30 years, reported the Observer newspaper on Sunday 24 February.
Reactions have predictably ranged from the supportive to the highly critical.
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said: "None of us know outcome of the investigation.. but I have found him to be a good man for his church and country."
"We pray that his successor is a little more Christian towards people who are openly gay than he was himself," tweeted Stonewall this morning.
Sir Tom Farmer, founder of Kwik Fit and a friend of the Cardinal, was reported in the (Glasgow-based) Herald newspaper as declaring: "I will say one thing for certain: Cardinal Keith O'Brien is a good man."
But human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, a longstanding critic of the Church, said: "He appears to have preached one thing in public while doing something different in private.”
* Cardinal O'Brien and beyond: the crisis in the Catholic Church, by Simon Barrow: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18066
* Cardinal O'Brien, Oscar Pistorius and 'standing still in the Light', by Jill Segger: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18059