O’Brien has not been the only cardinal to become embroiled in negative news as the papal election approaches. Across the Atlantic, thousands of people have signed a petition to keep California Cardinal Roger Mahony from the conclave because of revelations he had shielded sexually abusive priests.
Mahony has made it clear he will attend the gathering and that no one can force him to recuse himself.
In comments on the papacy made to the BBC on Friday, O’Brien said the next pope would be free to consider changing church policy on issues that were not “basic dogmatic beliefs.” He said he believed that the requirement for priestly celibacy is not “of divine origin” and could be reconsidered.
O’Brien also said it was time to think seriously about having a pope from outside Europe. He said he would be “open to a pope from anywhere if I thought it was the right man, whether it was Europe or Asia or Africa or wherever.”
The cardinal is due to retire when he turns 75 in March.