THE bishops of the Catholic Church were not warned of Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s return to Scotland, with sources saying they are angry at his decision to continue with his retirement plan to move to East Lothian.
The former Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, who scandalised the Church by admitting to having inappropriate relations with four priests and a seminarian, was photographed moving into a Church property in Dunbar.
Cardinal O’Brien was quoted as saying: “I’ve had a busy life as a priest, a bishop and a cardinal and it’s a nice place to relax. My own home is in the north of Ireland at the present time.
“All my friends are here in Scotland. I’ve been coming down here for weekends for some years as a retreat. It’s a nice little place. My plan is to move here ultimately to relax and enjoy my retirement.”
The cardinal had not been seen in public since February when he was ordered by Pope Benedict XVI to step down after allegations emerged of his relations with a priest in Aberdeen and four priests in the diocese of Edinburgh and St Andrews.
An insider close to the Catholic Church said the mood is one of displeasure: “It is a matter of dismay that the cardinal appears to be unaware of the degree to which his behaviour has damaged and is damaging the reputation of the Church, and repair will only be possible in his absence.”
As a cardinal, he is subject only to the new Pope Francis. As Cardinal O’Brien has not yet been informed of whether the Vatican plans to take any further action, he appears to be attempting to draw a line under the scandal. It is understood he still had keys to St Benets, his former official home in Edinburgh, as well as to the Church property in Dunbar and so decided to stick to his retirement plans. It is not clear when he plans to move permanently into the property.
Cardinal O’Brien may have been emboldened by a recent petition organised by the parishioners of Our Lady of The Waves in Dunbar which saw more than 90 per cent of those attending the Saturday vigil and Sunday mass signing a statement which declared: “We the undersigned wish to express our support and affection for Cardinal Keith O’Brien. We look forward to welcoming him into our community when he retires to Dunbar. He is in our prayers.”
Herbert Coutts, vice-chair of the parish council of Our Lady of the Waves in Dunbar, said yesterday: “I would welcome it if he could retire to Dunbar and be part of our community.”
The Catholic Church has a duty of care towards retired priests and it will have to be decided whether he can remain in the property.
Last night a spokesman for the Catholic Church said: “The official position is that we were not informed. It is a decision on his part to do this.
“It is a matter of fact that accommodation and welfare issues would be provided by the Church long-term; as to how exactly they are provided is a matter for the Holy See because ultimately he is subject only to the direction of the Pope and the Holy See and not to the remaining bishops of Scotland.”
Historian Professor Tom Devine said: “My view is that in terms of Christian charity the man should be left alone and I don’t think that any further public declaration would serve much of a purpose.”