Britain’s leading gay rights campaigners say the former leader of the Scottish Catholic Church who has now admitted to inappropriate “sexual conduct” should also apologise to gay people for his “vicious and cruel language” about them.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien quit last week as Britain’s top Roman Catholic cleric after being accused of inappropriate behaviour by several priests.

Yesterday, Cardinal O’Brien said: “my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”

“By his own admission, the cardinal stands exposed as a hypocrite. He preached publicly against homosexuality while privately seeking its pleasures,” human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said to PinkNews.co.uk.

“He is not the only two-faced hypocrite. There are other senior Catholic clergy who are guilty of the same duplicity.

“O’Brien’s admission of sexual contact with men wrecks the credibility of the church’s homophobic rants. It undermines the campaign against same-sex marriage, for which he was a leading spokesperson. No one can take them seriously any more.

Mr Tatchell continued: “The cardinal is a profoundly troubled man. I pity him. He needs counselling to help him deal with his decades of deception, and to come to terms with his obvious self-loathing and deeply repressed homosexual desires.

He added: “Other leading voices against marriage equality are also homophobic hypocrites. They are at risk of similar exposure as frauds.

“Recent revelations in the Italian press suggest that many gay clergy hold high office in the Vatican, despite its hardline homophobic stance. How can they live with their conscience?”

Last November, Cardinal O’Brien was named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by gay rights charity Stonewall 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 later this month.

Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said on Monday that the charity noted “with sadness that the cardinal didn’t find it in him to apologise to gay people, their families and friends for the harm his vicious and cruel language caused.”

In an editorial published last Friday, British Catholic newspaper The Tablet said: “When Cardinal Keith O’Brien called gay marriage a ‘grotesque subversion’ and ‘madness’ it attracted widespread censure. No wonder the accusations of inappropriate behaviour as a younger man – strenuously denied – were so damning. If true, it made him look a hypocrite. For the church this was a public relations disaster.”