Friends of the cardinal, still Scotland’s most senior Catholic, have been reported as saying officials in Rome have told him to abandon his plans to retire to a small church-owned property in Dunbar, East Lothian.
It is understood the cleric was contacted on Friday afternoon, days after he was photographed carrying cardboard boxes of his belongings from his official residence in Edinburgh.
The former Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, aged 75, had been forced by Pope Benedict XVI to retire after admitting “inappropriate behaviour” with four priests and a seminarian.
Philip Tartaglia, Archbishop of Glasgow, acting as president of the Bishop’s Conference of Scotland, was behind an appeal to the Vatican. He wrote to the Papal Nuncio in London informing him of the cardinal’s return and the subsequent publicity.
A source close to the cardinal said: “The cardinal has been advised not to relocate to the parish in Dunbar and has been told he should leave the country. That’s extremely disappointing and not a Christian way to treat someone. There’s clearly pressure from within and outwith the Church and no show of unity.
The source added: “Personally, I find it an atrocious way to treat someone who has been facing up to their responsibilities.”
The cardinal’s return has angered a number of people, including one of his alleged victims who is intending to take legal action against him.
A former seminarian, now in his 50s, was quoted as saying: “Keith O’Brien is giving the impression he wants a nice peaceful little retirement now. My experience hasn’t left me for decades and, as far as I’m concerned, this brings things very much back into focus. I have an issue with Keith O’Brien and it needs dealt with.”
But a number of the cardinal’s friends and supporters have rallied round to show support. A petition organised by parishioners of Our Lady of The Waves in Dunbar saw more than 90 per cent of those attending a Saturday vigil and Sunday mass sign a statement declaring “our support and affection for Cardinal Keith O’Brien”.
O’Brien said the scandal had left him “humbled”. He added: “I’m just trying to do my best to live a good Christian life myself now. Many people have been helping me to go back on the right path and that’s what I have to do. But I haven’t always managed to live that in my own live.
“If Christianity is about anything at all, it’s about forgiveness. That’s what I have to do as a cardinal priest – just forgive the wrongdoer and help them go back on to the right path again.”
No-one from the Catholic Church in Scotland press office was available for comment last night.