LONDON — A Scottish cardinal who stepped down from church leadership after admitting sexual misconduct should apologize to gay people for his years of "vicious and cruel language" about them, Britain's leading gay-rights group said Monday.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned last week as Britain's top Roman Catholic cleric after being accused of inappropriate behavior by three priests and a former priest.
O'Brien did not address the allegations directly, but said Sunday that "my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal."
"To those I have offended, I apologize and ask forgiveness," he said.
Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said Monday that the group noted "with sadness that the cardinal didn't find it in him to apologize to gay people, their families and friends for the harm his vicious and cruel language caused."
O'Brien, 74, had been a staunch advocate of church teaching against homosexuality, calling same-sex marriage "a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right" and saying that British government plans to legalize same-sex marriage would "shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world."
Last year, Stonewall named O'Brien "Bigot of the Year" for his hard line on homosexuality.
Despite his views on same-sex relationships, O'Brien was long known for his relatively liberal stance on some social issues.
Shortly after he was named cardinal in 2003, O'Brien made an unusual public pledge to defend Roman Catholic Church teaching, having previously suggested there should be more open discussion on issues such as the requirement of celibacy for priests and the church's ban on contraception.
The cardinal largely kept those views to himself over the next decade, although he reiterated them in an interview with the BBC just before the allegations against him emerged. O'Brien told the broadcaster that he was open to priests marrying and having children.
"The celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry – Jesus didn't say that," he said in the interview last month. "When I was a young boy, the priest didn't get married and that was it. I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married."
Until his resignation, O'Brien had been due to join cardinals from around the world in Rome to choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI.