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Welsh archbishop refuses to be 'scapegoated' over abuse claims

The controversial Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff in the UK has reportedly refused an appeal from the Pope's representative to resign his post.

Instead, Archbishop John Ward says he will remain in office until January 2004 when he reaches 75, the normal retirement age for bishops.

The Archbishop has now declared himself fit and healthy and ready to resume his official duties, which have been taken over by an apostolic administrator - Bishop Edwin Regan of Wrexham - who was appointed last December.

The details of the resignation plea are subject to Pontifical secrecy and have not been made public officially. But The Catholic Herald weekly newspaper has said the request was made in writing to Archbishop Ward over the summer by Archbishop Pablo Puente, the Papal Nuncio who was acting on behalf of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation of Bishops.

In an exclusive interview with the newspaper, Archbishop Ward says he believes he has been made a "scapegoat" for the church's failure to deal with two paedophile priests - Joe Jordan and John Lloyd - who were jailed for abusing children.

Jordan was jailed last year for eight years for the sex offences. Lloyd was sentenced in 1998 to seven years. The Archbishop has come under severe criticism for apparently ignoring warnings about both men and his handling of the scandals which have rocked the Catholic church in Cardiff.

Last November a BBC Panorama program "Power to Abuse" alleged that Archbishop Ward had behaved negligently in his handling of the priests. Soon after that program was broadcast Archbishop Ward suffered a deep-vein thrombosis and had to take prolonged sick leave. He told the Catholic Herald that the abuse scandals had been deliberately exploited by his "enemies" within the Cardiff clergy to bring about his downfall.

Archbishop Ward said a decision to step down would "hand victory" to a group of people which has been waging a campaign against him for more than a year. He also said he would not resign until his detractors had been punished under canon or church law.