His “public absence” might also allow his accuser-priests the space they need to fulfil a pastoral responsibility to share with members of the cardinal’s faithful but perplexed flock, of whom I am one, their interpretation of Catholic teaching on confession, penance, absolution, forgiveness, redemption and charity.
If they have waited until Cardinal O’Brien’s destruction is complete before doing so, that moment is surely now.
The Scottish hierarchy might also benefit from a sharper perspective on the human passions with which the secular world, gay or straight, wrestles in a society that, perhaps unlike the church, is in constant and confusing evolution.
Clumsy, alcohol-fuelled attempts at sexual expression, a drunken, smoochy grope or a maudlin, slurred declaration of desire may be politically incorrect, even illegal, now, but not that long ago might have been described by a cultural anthropologist as constituting “Scottish courtship rituals”.
Scotland is not so overly supplied with Catholic priests that we can afford to lose one who has shown himself to be as human as his congregations.
On his return to East Lothian the cardinal might yet draw on his recently renegotiated understanding of the phrase “know thyself” and make a particularly Catholic, and profound, contribution to the national aspiration: “To see oursels as ithers see us.”