Tom Devine: Church enemies are rejoicing today

When the allegations were first made, the mood among many Scottish Catholics was one of shock and disbelief.

How could a Prince of the Church, who had been involved in the election of one Pope and might have been an elector in the forthcoming conclave, possibly be guilty of such charges?

Suspicions were rife about the possible motivations of the accusers. Now we know the truth. The mood is likely to change radically to one of anger and a deep sense of betrayal.

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Christian charity demands we condemn the sin and not the sinner, but the hypocrisy which runs through this story leaves a bitter taste. Successive promotions to the highest honour the Catholic Church can bestow, apart from that of the papacy itself, were accepted without demur.

Homosexual behaviour was unrelentingly denounced in the media, despite the fact that, as now admitted “…my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal”.

People will find it difficult to accept that level of hypocrisy. The enemies of the Church are rejoicing today.

I have already said this was potentially the gravest internal scandal to hit the Catholic Church in Scotland since the Reformation, with incalculable effects in the short run.

The only word that I would now change is “potentially”.

Nevertheless, I am reasonably confident that this awful episode will not shake the faith of committed Catholics.

In the meantime, the faithful in Scotland owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the priests and former priest who had the courage to bring all this into the public domain. The pain will be profound, but better that than concealing the truth.

• Professor Tom Devine is an Edinburgh University historian..