Cardinal Keith O’Brien is to leave Scotland for several months after admitting improper sexual conduct, the Vatican has announced.

The 75-year-old staunch equal marriage opponent resigned as leader of the Scottish Catholic Church in late February over allegations of sexual misconduct involving several male priests.

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.

In March, he admitted that his “sexual conduct” had been “below the standards expected” of him.

It was also alleged Cardinal O’Brien had a long-standing physical relationship with one of the men whose complaints about his conduct sparked his resignation.

A Vatican inquiry concluded in April – and no further action against Cardinal O’Brien was taken.

However, on Wednesday the Vatican said that with the Pope’s approval Cardinal O’Brien would leave Scotland “for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer and penance”.

The statement said: “His Eminence Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien … will be leaving Scotland for several months for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer and penance.

“Any decision regarding future arrangements for his eminence shall be agreed with the Holy See.”