The Most Rev Leo William Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh. Picture by Bill Heaney


The King is dead. Long live the King. That is the shout that traditionally goes up the moment a monarch dies.

In royalty’s case, the successor is standing ready and waiting to take his or her seat on the throne and accept the heavy responsibilities that go with it.

Not so in the Catholic Church, which has this year sadly lost to the Covid 19 pandemic one of its “princes”, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, who was just 70 years old.

And, of course, church law means that no woman can be elected bishop or even priest.

The death of Archbishop Tartaglia has left the Church in Scotland bereft of a bishop who in his youth as a deacon and newly ordained priest was well-known and liked in West Dunbartonshire.

He served in St Peter’s, Bellsmyre; St Michael’s in the West End; St Patrick’s in Strathleven Place and, before he was promoted to Bishop of Paisley, St Mary’s, Duntocher.

Philip, to use his Christian name,  had a gift for friendship and insight into people. He preferred parish work to the administration and finance tasks at the cathedral offices in Clyde Street.

Bishop Hugh Gilbert said his workload was onerous –  “As a pastor,  he had plenty of valleys of darkness to walk through, with others, with unsettled priests, survivors of abuse, victims of accidents, and he did so in such a genuine, heartfelt way.  The bin lorry episode, the helicopter on the roof, his concern for asylum seekers.

“This wasn’t a tired, box-ticking cleric; he seemed an almost childlike enthusiast. So the memories remain: voicing our apology for child abuse in this Cathedral, preaching to seminarians in the crypt of St Peter’s, urging them in his halting, straight from the heart way, to put things.”

Scotland’s Catholic bishops, one of whom may be chosen to become the new Archbishop of Glasgow to succeed the late Archbishop Philip Tartaglia.

The chalice that is about to be passed along the board of the Scottish Bishops’ Conference will not be easy to take up in the middle of a pandemic and the turbulent politics of the 21st century, which involve complex and difficult issues for any cleric, never mind a Catholic bishop.

Who will take it up then? Who not only has the creed but the credentials and experience for this burden to be passed on?

It has to be Archbishop Leo Cushley, a former Vatican diplomat who has been responsible for cleaning up quietly and efficiently the mess left in St Andrews and Edinburgh by his predecessor Cardinal Keith Partick O’Brien after a sex abuse scandal involving seminarians and young priests.

O’Brien fled the night before he was due to travel to Rome to take part in the conclave of cardinals which elected the benign Pope Francis. He died in exile in England.

Cushley is a West of Scotland boy from Airdrie, whose native diocese of Motherwell is subject to the Metropolitan Archbishop in Glasgow. In the mid 1960s during another period of turbulence over changes brought about by Vatican II,  James Donald Scanlan was elevated from Bishop of Motherwell to Archbishop of Glasgow.

Archbishop Scanlan, a Glaswegian, later lost out to Archbishop Gordon Gray in the red hat stakes, to become Scotland’s first Cardinal.

The elevation of Cushley as Scotland’s fourth post-Reformation Cardinal (Gray, Winning, O’Brien) is ideally placed to resolve traditional Edinburgh-Glasgow rivalry involving priests promoting men from their own diocese for the top posts. His significant skills will be essential.

This was clear last weekend when in an unprecedented alliance of Catholic and Evangelical church leaders urged the Scottish Government to drop part of its proposed Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill.

They said this would allow time for “detailed consideration of crucial provisions”, but in reality they want it scrapped.

The Bill, which would potentially criminalise any criticism of transgender ideology has been attacked by the Catholic Church, the Free Church of Scotland and the Evangelical Alliance, all of which could fairly be described as fundamentalist.

In that letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Humza Yousaf, the church leaders have called for greater protections for freedom of expression and state:  “We believe that people should be completely free to disagree with our faith in any way, including mocking and ridiculing us.”

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf; Archbishop Leo Cushley and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

However, and this is a substantial but, they added: “We are convinced that our faith is true and has a sufficient evidential basis to withstand any criticism, we therefore welcome open debate.”

These developments have created a minefield for the SNP government, to whom open debate is anathema.

Wheesht for Scotland is their current modus operandum. Whatever you say, say nothing.

The SNP were once so aligned to the Catholic Church that the late Cardinal Tom Winning awarded a monthly column in his archdiocesan newspaper to Alex Salmond, who was then battling to oust Labour as the party of choice for Scotland’s 800,000 Catholics.

Cardinal O’Brien flew the saltire in St Peter’s Square when he was consecrated and later welcomed Pope Benedict to Edinburgh draped in the Church’s own Scottish tartan.

Huge volumes of water have flown under the bridges of the Tiber, the Forth and the Clyde since then, however.

When the history of Catholicism in Scotland comes to be written, the success of two Papal visits to Glasgow and Edinburgh will not be large enough to conceal the scandals attached to the shock resignation of Dumbarton-educated Cardinal O’Brien.

Or the cover-ups of widespread child abuse in care homes such as Smyllum and Nazareth House to name but two,  both of them run by religious orders of nuns.

Scotland is no longer a See of Tranquillity for the Catholic Church and the man at the helm of the Barque of Peter will have to be well equipped to navigate it through the loud weather ahead.

Cushley has guided the post-O’Brien Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh into calmer waters by making good use of  the diplomatic skills he learned in the Vatican and honed in prestigious diplomatic postings across the world.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP at large had better beware since Cushley could well become the rock on which Nationalism perishers at the Holyrood elections in May.

Born in 1961, he is a remarkably young man to have become a prelate and to have risen so quickly through the Vatican’s diplomatic ranks.  He previously served as head of the English language section of the Vatican Secretariat of State.

He was educated at Holy Cross High School, Hamilton,  and St Mary’s College, Blairs, Aberdeen, and studied philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University before returning to Motherwell as an assistant parish priest and school chaplain.

Rome kept him in its sights though, and he was summoned to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, studying diplomacy at the same time as studying for a doctorate in canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, which he earned in 1997.  He formally entered the Diplomatic Service of the Holy See in 1997.

Archbishop Cushley has served in the nunciatures (Vatican embassies) of Egypt, Burundi, Portugal and the United Nations in New York and South Africa.

From 2009 until 2013, he was head of the English-language section of the Vatican Secretariat of State.  In that capacity, he was responsible for accompanying the pope during all his visits to English speaking countries, such as the visits by Benedict XVI to Malta, Cyprus and the United Kingdom in 2010.

In 2013, Cushley was appointed as the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, less than a year after Cardinal O’Brien, pictured left,  resigned.

He has since demonstrated he will not shy away from conflict or controversy and showed considerable courage when, under guidance from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cushley banned high profile theologian Tina Beattie from lecturing to a lay Catholic group, the Newman Society.

He said: “Beattie was known frequently to have called into question the church’s teaching”.

He is a man not be messed around with, and certainly not to be disregarded on the vexed question of LGBT and transgender issues which have rocked the SNP causing deep divisions within the party.

The Catholic Church has made clear its opposition to homosexuality and, with other churches – although not the Church of Scotland – expressed to SNP Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf their “deep concerns” that any disagreement with, or criticism of, transgender identity could fall foul of the new hugely controversial Hate Crime law, if passed in its current form.

The church leaders have jointly pointed out that “transgender identity has been subject of extensive and emotional public discussion. Such free discussion and criticism of views is vital as society wrestles with these ideas.”

They have warned the Scottish government that they “cannot accept that any position or opinion at variance with the proposition that sex (or gender) is fluid and changeable should not be heard.”

The letter marks the first time Catholic, Free Church and Evangelical Alliance leaders have jointly petitioned the Scottish Government and sought a meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.

Supporting “open and honest debate”, the letter ends with an assertion, that “A right to claim that binary sex does not exist or is fluid must be matched with a right to disagree with that opinion; and protection from prosecution for holding it.”

It adds: ”The Parliament now has approximately four weeks to complete the passage of the bill. This is extraordinarily tight and risks inadequate and ill-thought through legislation being passed.

“No workable solutions to issues of freedom of expression have so far been suggested. If no such solutions can be found we hope the Scottish Government will now consider withdrawing the stirring up hatred offences in Part 2 of the bill to allow more detailed consideration and discussion and to ensure freedom of expression provisions, which enshrine free and open debate, are afforded the scrutiny they require.”

First Minister Sturgeon has been anxious to keep the peace with the transgender lobby in her own party. Thousands of its supporters have left already because they were unhappy with the manner in which they were being treated by the executive and others who, allegedly, disrespected them.

Of even greater concern to her though must be the possibility that the Catholic Church in Scotland, through Archbishop Leo Cushley, will make clear its displeasure that  it is not being listened to on LGBT and transgender issues.

If that happens then the SNP would lose a major proportion of the so-called “Catholic vote” which traditionally voted Labour into power in Scotland for half a century or more and which switched to voting for Alex Salmond.

Out of power at Holyrood they would then have nowhere to go with their plans for a second referendum on independence.

Also in the frame to become Archbishop of Glasgow is Bishop Joseph Toal, pictured above,  who is currently Bishop of Motherwell and was formerly Bishop of Argyll and the Isles. His brother, Vincent, is parish priest of St Michael’s in Cardross Road, Dumbarton.


One comment

  1. Looks very much like the SNP are now going to do battle with the churches.

    The Creed of Trans is greater than Christianity it now seems.

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