Archbishop: God’s Grace Has Greatly Helped Healing Process in Scotland

Cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned in 2013 after admitting he made inappropriate sexual advances to priests in the 1980s.

Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh
Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh (photo: CNA/Archdiocese of St. Andrews and Edinburgh)

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Following the 2013 resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, his successor acknowledges that the healing process for the diocese is continuing by God’s grace, but it will take time.

“Time is a great healer, and that is certainly helping us. But there is also the grace of God assisting us in moving on from any difficulties we might have had in the past,” Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh told CNA in an interview on Monday.

His predecessor resigned shortly before the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis, amid allegations that he made inappropriate sexual advances toward three priests in the 1980s. The cardinal later admitted the allegations to be true.

The new archbishop had a heavy burden ahead of him but promised “reconciliation and healing” for the archdiocese, and he acknowledged the healing process is a “delicate” one.

“It’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time on, and a lot of effort on, but it has also been done, I think, discreetly; it has got to be done quietly; it has got to be done with great patience and with great gentleness,” Archbishop Cushley said. “Because there are still people on both sides of this argument who are hurting and who are looking for answers.”

The archbishop also shared how Scotland has been faring since its Sept. 18 referendum on independence, noted how a new marriage-preparation program in his diocese is becoming a model for the rest of Scotland and explained the differing personalities of Pope Francis and Benedict XVI, which he learned during his time as a diplomat for the Holy See.

As Scottish citizens voted on the all-important question of independence from the United Kingdom this past September, the country was an exemplar of civility and unity, he said.

“There was a huge turnout; it was a robust but friendly and democratic debate. It went very well indeed. Many, many people participated,” he said.

“Many countries tear themselves to shreds on this very subject. But we managed to do this without a civil war. In fact, even better than that, we managed to do it without anything close to that.”

“A few eggs were thrown,” he quipped.

Ahead of the ordinary synod on the family being held in October, the archdiocese has also created a new marriage-preparation program for couples — a coincidence, Archbishop Cushley said. The new program was needed right away.

“What happened was there had been a Catholic marriage service for the whole of Scotland, and it had gradually become independent. And it was being partly funded by the state, and so it was no longer Catholic.”

“One day, we woke up and discovered it was no longer serving our purposes.”

“We’re still tweaking it,” he said. “There are one or two things about it that I’d like to make stronger.”

Another diocese is already taking notice. “We all now need it in Scotland,” he affirmed.

Before his appointment as Edinburgh’s shepherd, Archbishop Cushley served as a diplomat for the Holy See in places as disparate as New York City and Burundi. From his time as a diplomat under both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, he came to know the popes’ differing personalities and had some anecdotes to share about Pope Francis.

“I’ve compared them again and again in my head, and there was only one thing on the list that set them apart from each other,” he said. “And that was that Pope Benedict was a Bavarian gentleman who was very courteous to people, very correct and a little bit reserved. He liked people, but he was reserved; whereas Pope Francis is a much more — the Italians would say, a solar personality. He’s much sunnier; he’s much more open.”

Each is a “man of prayer,” he noted. “The thing is one is introverted, and one is extroverted; and that, for me, was almost the most important thing in the day-to-day [dealings with them] that I could see between the two.”

Pope Francis now walks daily from his residence at Casa Santa Marta to the apostolic palace, the archbishop said from what he has heard since he left Rome in the summer of 2013.

He included anecdotes of Francis from his brief time working under the Holy Father before his promotion.

“I can remember going into the library where he meets his guests, and he had disappeared this morning. He wasn’t there,” Cushley noted.

“And then, I noticed the curtain twitching, and he came from the other side of the curtain. And he said, ‘I’m here; it’s okay.’ And he had the rosary in his hand. And he said, ‘I was just praying for the people out in the square; I could see them out in St. Peter’s Square.’ And if they had looked up, they would have seen the Pope looking up at them and saying a prayer for them. And it was just the loveliest, simplest thing to do.”

And what will Francis see when he visits the United States next September?

The archbishop said, “I am sure that the American Church will give him the warmest of welcomes.”