Ian Swanson: Can new archbishop help church find redemption?

Leo Cushley. Picture: Jon Savage
Leo Cushley. Picture: Jon Savage
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MONSIGNOR Leo Cushley had an A to Z of Edinburgh with him as he answered questions about his appointment as the new Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

But the 52-year-old priest from Lanarkshire who used to serve as interpreter to Pope Benedict XVI on his travels will need more than a road atlas of the city streets to steer the Catholic church back to a position of influence and respect following the scandal 
surrounding Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

The allegations made against the cardinal by three priests and a former priest – and his later admission that his sexual conduct had “fallen below the standards expected of me” – caused widespread shock among the Catholic faithful and outside the church.

The hard line which Cardinal O’Brien had taken against homosexuality meant he could not avoid the extremely damaging charge of gross hypocrisy.

For a church already crippled by child sex abuse scandals in many countries around the globe, having one of its most senior figures brought down in such a way was close to 

Nearly six months on, some of the anger and disappointment felt at the time has subsided.

But the new archbishop faces an uphill struggle to restore faith in the Catholic church and regain public respect.

Mgr Cushley was one of two 
high-flying Scots based at the Vatican who were tipped for the job.

Church insiders say Pope Francis made a wise choice by plumping for Mgr Cushley rather than Monsignor Patrick Burke, who worked for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

One source says: “Leo Cushley seems an easy-going chap. He’s always smiling whereas Patrick Burke is frowning all the time.

“Burke is also much more narrow theologically. He would be bound to have got stuck in lots of conflicts.

“Cushley is an expert in defusing conflict – he worked in Burundi and other trouble spots, so Scotland should not be a problem.”

Despite the scandal, Cardinal O’Brien – and bizarrely he still has the title – is still regarded with affection and sympathy by many of his former flock and others who knew him.

Although the church authorities stepped in to prevent his immediate retirement to Dunbar, ordering him abroad for “several months” of prayer and penance, it seems clear a lot of the local church people would be quite happy to welcome him to the town.

A church insider says Cardinal O’Brien was popular because he “liked people” and was “down to earth”. But the insider says for much of his time in charge, there was little of substance being done. “Nothing was happening, the place had disintegrated. People say Keith O’Brien dominated the scene, but it was mostly bluster and window-dressing. He was afraid to say boo to anyone in case they started looking into his private life. Mario Conti (former Archbishop of Glasgow) was really running the show.”

The current Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, will remain Scotland’s most senior Catholic when Mgr Cushley takes up his post, but as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh the new man will have more than enough to keep him busy.

The faithful will be praying that his appointment marks a turning point for the church, but only time will tell if it’s a new dawn.