SO a veil has been stripped from the life of Cardinal Keith O'Brien.
He stands exposed and humiliated: his work of a lifetime overtaken by scandal. Instead of righteousness, all that is left to see is hypocrisy and, I'm sorry to say, dishonesty.
He is accused of making sexual advances to young priests when he was in a position of power over them. He compounded his actions latterly with his intemperate Old Testament-style attack on gay marriage.
Yet, oddly, I would be more inclined to listen to his opinions now than ever before. If it were possible I might even support his reinstatement. And it's not because I'm impressed by his apology, which begs more questions than it answers.
In it he admits to times when his sexual behaviour fell below the standards expected of a priest, archbishop and cardinal. Isn't all sexual behaviour denied to Roman Catholic clergy? Further, why does he include his time as a cardinal when the most recent accusation of which we are aware dates back to 2001? He was an archbishop then. Does the statement hint at the possibility of other revelations to come? It's a mighty mess.
However – and it is a crucial however – I would retrieve him from whatever outer darkness he currently inhabits. Now that he has nothing to lose, I'd ask him to speak out, to tell the Vatican and the world what it's really like to rise to the top of the Roman Catholic Church.
I'd ask him to speak plainly about the struggles he faced with celibacy – to expose the nonsense of this long-held, misguided discipline.
I once sat beside the cardinal at dinner and found him to be a down-to-earth and pleasant companion. We're both from Northern Ireland and – ironically – we chatted about the fact that he would one day elect a Pope and possibly one day become Pope himself. (The latter was my suggestion, not his.)
He changed my understanding of the church during that conversation. He spoke about the view from Rome and made me realise that Europe is but the rump of a vast empire. How thin and weak the voice of our liberalism must sound against the faithful roar from Africa and South America.
But his voice, the voice of a cardinal – for he will remain one for life – couldn't be ignored.
If he speaks out strongly for change, the exposure and humiliation he is suffering could yet be turned to good. If he will now tell the Vatican and tell the world about the nonsense of celibacy; how priests struggle with it and how they fail, he would help Catholics everywhere.
From the clips I have seen on television his congregation speak warmly of him. They say he has time for them. They say they have found him to be a good man, a good priest.
Can we hold two identities in one thought – a hypocrite and a good man? Of course we can. Isn't it the definition of many a human being?
What the cardinal has really been guilty of is cowardice.
He may have abhorred the sexual side of his nature. He may have been in denial about it. Or he may have treated his sexual excursions the way many Roman Catholics treat contraception – as a practical solution to an outrageous rule.
But the game – whatever it was – is up. So let him speak out, the better to spare others a similar fate.
When the earth was already shifting under his feet, he mentioned the desirability of allowing priests to marry. Why not go further and acknowledge the right of gay priests to admit their sexuality?
If the church allowed consensual adult relationships, it would no longer be an institution populated by men living unnatural lives. Nor would it be a convenient hiding place for paedophiles. The Catholic laity would have a leadership that was in touch with the real world and sex would be off the agenda.
Married priests with 2.5 children would soon have to stop preaching against contraception. Millions of lives would be saved and the church could focus on the important work of assisting the poor and the down-trodden.
Cardinal O'Brien and his similarly elevated colleagues dedicated their lives to walking in the shoes of a fisherman – and then donned the robes of a prince. They lead a church that was founded by St Peter, a self-confessed sinner, a man who denied his leader thrice. Yet, in all their pronouncements, they present themselves as saintly.
They lead a church that preaches forgiveness and redemption. Yet they close ranks and deny their own failings instead of sorting them.
Let Cardinal O'Brien and all the ecclesiastic elite tell the hidden truth. Let them speak out about the difficulties they found too great to endure. Let them shine an informed light on the state of the clergy and the rule book that forces all too many of them to live one lie or another.
Some will have entered the priesthood as a means of masking their homosexual orientation. Arriving then into the hot-house of an all-male seminary must be exquisite torture indeed.
To gain an insight into the pressures endured we can turn to Richard Holloway. The former Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh writes with eloquent honesty about his teenage years in a theological seminary where celibacy was required. He describes his love of the place, the companionability, the prayer, plainsong and learning – only to be confounded by his burgeoning libido.
He was a perfectly normal youth coming into adulthood but at that time and in that place, his healthy sexuality was a torment, "As far as human anguish goes, it was at the lower end of the spectrum, but it was pain enough, and it left a shadow. I have often wished I met someone then, maybe someone like the priest I became later, who could have told me to relax, that it was natural-"
He is plain-spoken and open. If only Cardinal O'Brien could now follow suit. He stands accused of propositioning young priests in his care as well as under his power. If he were to speak plainly now, might he not assist today's young priests?
Permitted to enjoy a normal sex life, men like Cardinal Keith O'Brien, would be released to assist their congregations without ducking and diving in the shadows to pursue one.
These issues need aired. They need to be debated with disclosure and honesty before more red-faced prelates are dragged whimpering into the spotlight.
Who is to blame for Cardinal O'Brien's disgrace? Is it he or his church? Each is as culpable as the other.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.