Disgraced Cardinal Keith O'Brien blocked an independent inquiry into cases of historic sexual abuse a year before resigning over his own inappropriate sexual conduct, the Catholic Church has said.

The Bishops' Conference of Scotland commissioned a report into allegations of abuse in 2011 but it was halted the following year when Cardinal O'Brien, then president of the conference, withdrew his support.

The cardinal stepped down as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh in February after three priests and a former priest made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against him.

He issued an apology, saying ''there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me''.

His opposition to an inquiry into Church-related abuse allegations was revealed by the retired archbishop of Glasgow, Mario Conti, in a letter to the Catholic newspaper The Tablet.

Mr Conti wrote: "It was the intention of all but one member of the Bishops' Conference to commission an independent examination of the historical cases we had on file in all of our respective dioceses and publish the results, but this was delayed by the objection of the then president of the conference; without full participation of all the dioceses the exercise would have been faulty."

A Church spokesman said: "This refers to a decision taken in 2011 by the Bishops' Conference of Scotland to commission an independent academic analysis of statistics relating to abuse and allegations of abuse over a 60-year period from 1952 to 2012.

"This project, with the cooperation of each of the eight dioceses in Scotland, started and ran until 2012, at which time, the then president of the conference, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, withdrew from the project. Without the participation of all the dioceses a 'national audit' was not possible so the analysis was stopped."

Following his resignation Cardinal O'Brien, 75, stated that he would play no further part in the public life of the Catholic Church in Scotland and has since left the country for a period of ''spiritual renewal and reflection''.

Monsignor Leo Cushley, who formerly worked on the Vatican's diplomatic team, was last month appointed his successor.

At a meeting in June, the Bishops' Conference of Scotland agreed to publish audits relating to the Church's eight dioceses since 2006.

The reports, to be published in the autumn, "will detail any complaints made about clergy, church workers, volunteers or anyone else and how these complaints were dealt with", the Church said.

The spokesman added: "Prior to 2006 there was no National Audit and so at present, renewed consideration is being given as to how the statistics which exist for the earlier years can be drawn together and published.

"The Church remains willing to engage in any process which allows lessons to be learned and survivors to be supported."

A police investigation is under way into allegations of historic sexual abuse at two Catholic boarding schools in the Scottish Highlands.

More than 20 people have come forward to say they were victims of physical and sexual abuse by a number of Benedictine monks who ran the Fort Augustus Abbey school and Carlekemp, its feeder school in East Lothian, from the 1950s to the 1990s. Both schools are now closed.

One of Scotland's most senior Catholics, Bishop of Aberdeen Hugh Gilbert, apologised to former pupils during mass at Fort Augustus church earlier this month.

He said: ''It is a most bitter, shaming and distressing thing that in this former Abbey school a small number of baptised, consecrated and ordained Christian men physically or sexually abused those in their care.

"All that can be done should be done for the victims.

''The Catholic Church in Scotland has been addressing this issue increasingly effectively in recent years. We want to work with all public bodies who care for the young and vulnerable adults."