DISGRACED Cardinal Keith O’Brien has been praised by the Pope’s representative in the UK as having done “a lot of good” during his career.
Papal Nuncio Antonio Mennini said that, despite having made mistakes, the cardinal had also made a positive contribution on the Church’s behalf.
The Nuncio’s comments came as he made a surprise announcement that bishops would be appointed to three of the four currently vacant dioceses in Scotland.
Speaking during a visit to the Diocese of Motherwell, where he told clergy the resignation of Bishop Joseph Devine had been accepted, Archbishop Mennini said: “In some respect, we can recognise the cardinal, not withstanding his mistake, did a lot of good work for the Church.”
In February, the cardinal was forced to retire early by the former Pope Benedict XVI after admitting inappropriate behaviour with a number of priests. He was subsequently ordered by the Pope to leave Scotland and undertake months of “spiritual renewal, prayer and penance”.
However, the archbishop said that it was unfair to judge Cardinal O’Brien “only for these very serious events”, adding that in every person there was “black and white, positive and negative”.
Of the vacant positions, St Andrews and Edinburgh is expected to be filled by the end of June, and the dioceses of Dunkeld and Paisley by the end of August. The bishop of the diocese of Galloway has passed retirement age but is still in place.
The Catholic Church currently has only three bishops in place, serving its eight dioceses.
The Nuncio’s visit to Motherwell diocese has been described by Church figures as unprecedented and a sign that the Vatican wanted to start “a new chapter” in Scotland.
A Church spokesman said the visit “was to show a gesture of solidarity with the Catholic Church in Scotland and remind them that, just as he said with the cardinal, recent difficulties are not being seen as a judgment on the Church”.
Next month, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who guards the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church, is also to visit Scotland.
He will speak to the priests of the diocese of Motherwell at Motherwell Cathedral on 14 June where he is expected to offer support during the current difficulties in the Church.
The diocese has been the focus of further controversy in recent days concerning the position of Bishop Devine, who had tendered his resignation last year upon reaching retirement age of 75.
He had been expected to remain at his post until a permanent replacement was found, but, according to Church sources, an “outpouring of discontent” from local clergy over the bishop’s leadership had prompted the Papal Nuncio to accept Bishop Devine’s resignation early.
The historian Professor Tom Devine said the events of the past year could lead the Catholic Church of Scotland to look on 2013 as its own “annus horribilis”, but added the Nuncio’s comments showed the Vatican was determined to address the crisis.
However, he added: “The Catholic people of Scotland are still in a state of semi-bewilderment and clear leadership is required.”