The church is set to undergo a high level inspection - known as an apostolic visitation - in response to the claims made against Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric, who resigned from the diocese of Edinburgh and St Andrews in February.
Archbishop Antonio Mennini is understood to have revealed the inspection when he met with a former priest, known only as Lenny, who accused the cardinal of making sexual advances towards him when he was a seminarian.
The alleged victim said: “The archbishop told me the holy see had decided there would be an investigation into all the allegations. Anyone affected would be able to give evidence. If it is judged that there is sufficient evidence, then it would go to another, deeper process in Rome.
“I am glad the Catholic church has faced up to the need for a process to determine the truth,” he said. “If this story had not gone public in February, if there had not been consistent calls for action, we would not have got to this point. But it’s now important to scrutinise the scope and remit of the visitation. It must address Keith O’Brien’s behaviour, but also examine whether any promotions were awarded to the cardinal’s cronies.”
Lenny revealed the nuncio said the visitator of the inspection should be the new archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.
O’Brien’s successor is expected to be announced later this month, and insiders have speculated he will be replaced by a Scot currently working in Rome.
Lenny added: “I told Archbishop Mennini that the process was not likely to reach the truth if it was conducted by the new archbishop, whoever that turns out to be. Priests are hardly likely to be completely frank with someone who holds their lives in his hands for years to come. I hope the nuncio rethinks.”
Tom Doyle, a senior canon lawyer who worked at the nunciature in Washington before representing abuse victims all over the world in cases against the Catholic church, agreed that O’Brien’s successor should not be hired. He said: “The whole point is that it’s someone from outside. If they appoint O’Brien’s successor to lead the investigation, they are going to look like fools.
“It would be ridiculous to appoint the cardinal’s successor.”
In a statement in March, O’Brien acknowledged wrong-doing within the church. He said: “My sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”
Senior figures in Rome have said the apostolic visitation is a way of dealing not just with the cardinal, but with the more general accusations across the church in Scotland.
Father Robert Gahl, an associate professor of ethics at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, said: “Given that the Cardinal O’Brien case seems to be a salient feature of a larger network of dysfunction, an apostolic visitation could be a very appropriate way of addressing the larger problem.”
But Mr Doyle has expressed his concern that the forthcoming visit will not investigate the situation sufficiently after Ireland’s apoltolic visitation in 2011 following widespread child abuse was a “total farce”. He said: “I don’t think an apostolic visitation will achieve much. In my experience of sexual abuse – which dates back 30 years – the only significant truth that has ever arisen has been when totally independent investigations have been carried out.
“In America, it’s been grand juries. In Ireland, it’s been statutory commissions. If they are really looking into alleged abuse by Keith O’Brien, the only way to do it is to appoint outside investigators who have free rein. But they won’t.”
The cardinal resigned from his post in February and was removed from Scotland for six months by the church.