“It’s all rubbish,” an elderly lady shouted towards the huddle of media camped outside St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh for the 11:30am Mass.
Her sentiments were echoed by many other people, of all ages and backgrounds, who say they simply do not believe Cardinal Keith O’Brien is guilty of the accusations made against him.
“I am sure there is no truth to what has been said,” said Mark McManus, 28, as he arrived for Mass. “I have known the cardinal many years; he is a good, decent and honest man who cares deeply about people.
“He has done a lot for me and many people I know. I don’t know why people are saying what they are, but I do not believe a word of it.”
The same view was taken by 83-year-old John Irvine, who said: “I am quite sure the cardinal is a very good man.”
Barbara Mundweil, who attended with her five-year-old daughter, Maria, said: “I know him as a very honest person. I was here a couple of years ago when he apologised for sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It was an unreserved apology, very genuine.”
Her views were echoed by Françoise Milne, 45, who said: “It’s easy to accuse somebody 30 years later. But the people who accuse him should be careful of the consequences of their actions.”
She added the timing was “unfortunate”, given that a new pope was soon to be elected – elections in which Cardinal O’Brien is due to participate.
But despite the obvious support for the cardinal, a sombre silence fell upon St Mary’s. The anxious hush was broken as the doors at the back of the cathedral swung open and the procession began.
As the altar servers made their way down the neo-Gothic cathedral before the start of the 90-minute Mass, many were in tears. It was obvious there was sense of deep shock.
As auxiliary Bishop Stephen Robson finished a brief statement explaining the cardinal’s absence, a few people walked out. One member of the New Town church commented at her surprise that half the seats at the Mass had been empty – which she blamed as much on the weather as the latest allegations.
She said: “It is usually packed; people of all nationalities come here. It is unusual to see so quite so empty seats. It is sad, let’s hope this all gets resolved soon. ”
Former Kwik-Fit chairman Sir Tom Farmer spoke of the congregation’s shock as he departed from the service.
He said: “Cardinal O’Brien is a very great friend of mine. This has come as a great surprise, everybody is surprised.”
He told how the allegations had caused “great sadness” to the Catholic Church, adding: “We know there have been allegations made, but we don’t know who has made them.”
Most people remained tight-lipped as they made their way out of the cathedral into the emerging February sunshine. One angry middle-aged man shouted: “You shouldn’t be writing these lies. Leave us alone.”
Moments later, a woman emerged from the cathedral looking pensive and upset. Clutching a young child’s hand, Christina Bhachu said: “I think there are a lot of issues in the Catholic Church that need to be resolved.”
A few miles away in the plush Greenhill area of Edinburgh, Cardinal O’Brien stayed behind the closed doors of St Bennet’s, his official residence.
Throughout the day a stream of 4x4s entered and emerged from the mansion attached to a Byzantine church.
Many were driven by officials from the Church, some visibly angry that media had gathered outside the snow-topped building.
Speaking after taking the morning Mass, Bishop Robson said the cardinal would be remaining inside his home for the rest of the day.
Asked how he felt about the accusations, the bishop said: “We are all devastated. I have just broken the news to my congregation.”