The most senior cleric in Britain has been reported to the Vatican for inappropriate behavior by three priests and a former priest – days after saying the clergy should be allowed to marry.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, born in Antrim, has yet to respond to the allegations stretching back 30 years but a spokesman said they would be contested.

The Observer newspaper reports that the four, from the diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, have complained to nuncio Antonio Mennini, the Vatican’s ambassador to Britain.

The paper reports the four have demanded the immediate resignation of Cardinal O’Brien, not for his outspoken views against gay rights and same sex marriages.

Due to retire next month, O’Brien has condemned homosexuality as immoral, opposed gay adoption and most recently argued that same-sex marriages are ‘harmful to the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of those involved’.

The cardinal was named ‘bigot of the year’ by the gay rights charity Stonewall for 2012.

The paper says that one of the complainants alleges that the cardinal developed an inappropriate relationship with him, resulting in a need for long-term psychological counselling.

The report adds that the four submitted statements containing their claims to the nuncio’s office the week before Pope Benedict’s resignation on February 11th.

They fear that the church will not fully address their complaints if O’Brien travels to the forthcoming papal conclave to elect a new pope.

One of the complainants told the Observer: “It tends to cover up and protect the system at all costs.

“The church is beautiful, but it has a dark side and that has to do with accountability. If the system is to be improved, maybe it needs to be dismantled a bit.”

The Vatican is believed to be angry at the latest allegations and the Nuncio has told them that he ‘appreciates’ their courage.

The paper reports that the first allegation against the cardinal dates back to 1980 when the complainant, who is now married, was then a 20-year-old seminarian at St Andrew’s College, Drygrange, where O’Brien was his ‘spiritual director’.

The Observer understands that the statement claims O’Brien made an inappropriate approach after night prayers.

The seminarian is reported as saying he was too frightened to report the incident, but says his personality changed afterwards, and his teachers regularly noted that he seemed depressed.

He was ordained as a priest but he told the nuncio in his statement that he resigned when O’Brien was promoted to bishop.

He said: “I knew then he would always have power over me. It was assumed I left the priesthood to get married. I did not. I left to preserve my integrity.”

The Observer says that, in a second statement, Priest A describes being happily settled in a parish when he claims he was visited by O’Brien and inappropriate contact between the two took place.

Priest B claims that he was starting his ministry in the 1980s when he was invited to spend a week ‘getting to know’ O’Brien at the archbishop’s residence. The paper reports that his statement alleges that he found himself dealing with what he describes as unwanted behaviour by the cardinal after a late-night drinking session.

Priest C was a young priest the cardinal was counselling over personal problems. His statement claims that O’Brien used night prayers as an excuse for inappropriate contact.

His statement to the nuncio’s office alleges that he engineered at least one other intimate situation.

The claimants are adamant that the cardinal abused his position.

The former priest added: “You have to understand the relationship between a bishop and a priest. At your ordination, you take a vow to be obedient to him.

“He’s more than your boss, more than the CEO of your company. He has immense power over you. He can move you, freeze you out, bring you into the fold … he controls every aspect of your life. You can’t just kick him in the balls.”