Pope Benedict XVI visit: The Motherwell Monsignor who is most influential Scot in the Holy See

HE is 'Our Man in the Vatican'. Monsignor Leo Cushley, a priest from the Diocese of Motherwell, will co-ordinate the drafts of all Pope Benedict XVI's speeches during his visit to Britain and is the most influential Scot in the Holy See.

As head of the English Language desk of the Secretariat of State, the 'Foreign Office' of the Vatican, he is responsible for the Church's relations with the English speaking world, a massive territory that includes North America, Australia, Britain and territories in the Far East.

Based inside Vatican City, on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace, which is on the same floor at the papal apartments, Monsignor Cushley runs one of the eight language desks, and is in frequent contact with the Pope whom he accompanies on all visits to English speaking nations. Given the sensitivity of his position, he declines all interviews, but those who know him testify to his quick wit, high level of intelligence and appreciation for a fine wine and an exquisitely cooked meal.

As Bishop Joe Devine, from whose diocese Father Cushley was plucked in 1992, said: "People don't appreciate that we have such a high-profile figure in the Vatican. He is in charge of all English affairs at the Secretariat of State which is a huge and very important desk."

Monsignor Cushley, who is 49, was educated at junior seminary at Blair's, outside Aberdeen, before transferring to the Scots College in Rome where he attended the Gregorian University.

Ordained a priest at St John the Baptist in Uddingston, his home town, in 1985, he was "talent spotted" by the Vatican who wrote to Bishop Devine asking that he be permitted to transfer to the Secretariat of State. Although initially reluctant to leave his ageing parents, he eventually agreed and left to study political science and international and diplomatic law at the prestigious Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy.

Over the past 18 years, he has risen through the ranks, but not without a number of difficult tasks. After a brief spell at the Nunciature in Cairo in 1996, he was transferred to Burundi during the nation's civil war and at the time of the massacres in neighbouring Rwanda. In a rare interview he said: "It was incredibly impressive how the activity of the church had a beneficial effect in the country. The church was, and is, doing an amazing amount in Burundi."

It was not without its dangers. A few years later the Irish nuncio, as ambassadors are known, was shot dead while travelling in the country.

His next posting was to the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, for a three-year stint after which he was transferred to the high-profile role as one of three diplomats at the United Nations where the Holy See has the status of Permanent Observer Mission. He speaks a number of languages fluently.As Bishop Devine said: "Leo was just good at everything, it came so naturally to him and he is such a nice personality. A good looking big fellow, nothing was a bother to Leo Cushley, and he has a zest for life."

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