Britain’s most senior Catholic leader, notorious for his anti-gay views, who at the weekend was reported to the Vatican over historical allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving several male priests - has resigned as the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

On Monday, the Scottish Catholic Church said Pope Benedict XVI had accepted the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

Cardinal O’Brien said in a statement: “The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today.”

The 74-year-old will no longer take part in the election for a successor to the Pope – leaving Britain unrepresented in the election.

Pope Benedict XVI, who previously referred to gay people as a “defection of human nature”, officially stands down on Thursday.

He announced his resignation earlier this month due to failing health.

Over the past eight years, since assuming the top job in the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict has pursued a staunchly anti-gay doctrine.

In 2012, the Pope warned that introducing equal marriage around the world would risk the future of humanity itself.

At the end of the year, in his message for World Day of Peace 2013, he said same-sex marriage was unnatural and posed a threat to “justice and peace”.

Cardinal O’Brien missed the traditional Sunday Mass at the weekend after the Observer newspaper carried allegations relating to actions of the cardinal from 30 years ago.

On Monday, Bishop Stephen Robson, who is auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, made a statement at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh.

He said: “A number of allegations of inappropriate behaviour have been made against the cardinal.

“The cardinal has sought legal advice and it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. There will be further statements in due course.

“As always in times of need such as this we cannot not be saddened by the events of the last 24 hours.

“It is to the Lord that we turn to now in times of need.”

Last Friday, in an interview with BBC Scotland, Cardinal O’Brien said that male priests within the Catholic Church should be able to marry female partners.

Just hours before the Observer story broke, the cardinal said: “I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married.

“It is a free world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own.”

Last November, Cardinal O’Brien was named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by a gay rights charity due to his staunch opposition to marriage equality.

In 2012, he stated that same-sex relationships were “harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing” and compared equal marriage to slavery and child abuse.

He was due to retire next month.

Meanwhile on Saturday, the Vatican refused to confirm or deny claims of a network of gay prelates operating at its heart, some of whom allegedly have been blackmailed.

Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica published an article last Thursday claiming that Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to resign was in part finalised by a Vatican report showing that the Holy See was affected by outside influences, including a “gay lobby”.