CARDINAL Keith O’Brien narrowly recovered from an extended battle with gout in time to keep his long-standing tradition of leading yesterday’s New Year’s service at St Mary’s Cathedral.
The high-ranking figure in the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland used crutches to complete his festive period duties in Edinburgh, having recently spent nine days in the Western General Hospital suffering from severe gout.
Among those duties was hosting the annual New Year’s reception at St Bennet’s Chapel – his Greenhill Gardens residence in Morningside.
A spokeswoman at the cardinal’s residence said: “He’s not 100 per cent, but he’s doing it.”
Gout is the recurrent attack of acute inflammatory arthritis, often resulting in red, tender and swollen joints.
Cardinal O’Brien, who wished everyone a peaceful New Year, revealed he had been using a pair of crutches to help keep his balance after a battle with the condition stretching back to October.
The controversial religious leader is due to retire from the position of Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh in line with church regulations when he turns 75 in March.
However, he revealed to the Evening News there was a possibility his term could extend further into 2013.
Cardinal O’Brien said: “I’ve completed 27 years as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and I’ve enjoyed every minute. I’ve led a full life.
“Now I have a milestone looming. At 75 on March 17, I hand my resignation to the Pope. Whether his Holiness accepts it then, I don’t know.
“I saw him in Rome in October and we discussed that he might extend it for several months. But it’s the general rule for cardinals to finish at 75.”
The senior cardinal called at one of Craigmillar’s parish churches earlier this month in a sign of his increased mobility.
Health problems contributed to Cardinal O’Brien’s decision to step down. His decision to officially quit the position of Bishops’ Conference of Scotland president on November 5 ended a decade in the top post.
Cardinal O’Brien has also suffered from heart problems for several years, having been fitted with a pacemaker after complaining of dizzy spells and fainting prior to Passion Sunday Mass in March 2008.
Last year he was named Bigot of the Year by charity Stonewall for 2012, having been an outspoken critic of the Scottish Government’s plans to legalise same-sex marriage.
West Lothian singing sensation Susan Boyle was, meanwhile, missing from yesterday’s reception at St Bennet’s after being a surprise guest last year.
Cardinal O’Brien added: “She was quite taken with the little chapel we have here. She’s a good little Christian.”