msnbc | February 25, 2013
>>> we have several major developments out of rome this morning. pope benedict xvi has given the cardinals permission to start up the date of the conclave. there will be one fewer cardinal in that conclave. keith o'brien, head of the church in scotland, has resigned after he was accused by three priests and a former priest of inappropriate behavior. let's bring in nbc news vatican analyst george michaels, senior fellow at the ethics and policy center. george, so more than 100,000 people turned out yesterday for the pope's pin am sunday blessing. but have you all this controversy out there. let's start with cardinal o'brien. this is a man who has been outspoken in his views against homosexuality and when there were calls for l.a.'s former cardinal to stay home from the conclave because of his role in protecting the abusive priests. here is what the cardinal said.
>> if someone erred in some way or another that does not -- judgment and other matters.
>> probably not exactly the statement that people would have wanted to hear from him. so he's decided to step down. was this the vatican pushing him out of the conclave?
>> reporter: i think he was planning to retire or be retired next month. and things simply moved up a bit faster because of the reports earlier this week. as you can see it is a bit raw here. weatherwise in rome . i think the local media environment is similar. there's a lot of conspiracy theorizing going on. and -- that's probably not going to give us a real clear view of what the issues are at the conclave.
>> yeah. you had these rumors of blackmail and conspiracy theories in the -- italian newspapers . i mean is this going to have an impact, do you think, on the conclave?
>> reporter: i think what is going to have an impact is now the widespread understanding of the pope received in mid december. a report from three very senior cardinals laying out a set of problems with the functioning of the vatican and that has crystalized, i think, a sense that's been building over the last five years or more. that this pope has been badly ill-served by those proposed trust, that there are some systemic problems in the vatican that need to be addressed. i suspect that those problems are going to be rather vigorously debated when the cardinals begin what are called the general congregations, meeting of all the members, electors and those over 80, which we now assume will begin sometime early next week.
>> let me ask you about cardinal mahoney . roman catholic activists gathered more than 10,000 signatures for a petition asking him to recuse himself from the conclave. of course, he was the head of the los angeles diocese and shielded priests known to be abusers. he announced -- on twitter, on his blog post , his people have, that he has every intention of going to rome . in fact, suggested he is very excited about it. is there going to be more pressure especially especially what happened to cardinal o'brien not to be part of this conclave?
>> reporter: i don't really know. the canon law of the church is pretty clear. that -- participation in a conclave has an obligation of a member of the college. and i think it would probably set an extremely bad precedent if plebiscites were suddenly to determine who gets to vote and who doesn't. the real problem here in the long-term problem is how to better judge the leadership of the church when it is chosen and how to address this issue which is really quite striking of retired cardinals who nonetheless retain a conclave vote. something like 20% of this electorate is going to be retired. that seems like something that ought to be looked at seriously in the future.
>> well, i mean, the argument, obviously is that 20% p, cardinal mahoney is the one who shielded abusive priests. that's -- i think, a different conversation. we are out of time. we will talk again. nbc news vatican analyst george weigel . thank you.