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INSIDE TRACK: Catholic Church looks ahead after annus horribilis

Last year is not one on which it shall look back with undiluted pleasure.

In the words of the defender of another faith, it turned out to be the Catholic Church in Scotland's annus horribilis.

The sex scandal which led to the downfall of Cardinal Keith O'Brien almost a year ago was billed as the biggest crisis since the re-establishment of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Scotland 135 years previous.

Add the emergence of further historic abuse cases and the fast-tracking of the gay marriage bill despite vocal Catholic opposition and the church in Scotland was beset with the allegations it faces elsewhere in the Anglophone world: hypocrisy, a culture of cover-ups and a moral compass not reflective of modern society.

To the casual observer, the standing of Scotland in the eyes of the Vatican was borne out this week by its senior clergy being overlooked in Pope Francis's announcement of 19 new cardinals.

The career path of one of its most gifted diplomats had to be diverted to sort its North Atlantic backwater, such was the mess left by O'Brien.

But the catastrophe didn't happen. Anecdotal evidence at the end of the year showed regular mass attendance had at least held up, the Pope Francis factor halting an exodus from the pews.

The publication of the 2011 census figures was another boon. In a Scotland where secularism is surging and membership of the national Church is falling, more people declared themselves Roman Catholic in 2011 than did in 2001.

The number of regular Catholic and Church of Scotland worshippers both stand at a weekly estimate of around 200,000.

For anyone looking a more liberal stamp on the Catholic Church in these islands, all things relative, you've got it. Overlooked by Pope Benedict, in part for masses for London's gay community within his jurisdiction, Francis on Sunday announced Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nicholls would become one of his new 'Princes of the Church'.

As a cardinal, Nicholls will take part in the selection of the next Pope, giving the DNA of Francis's brand of Catholicism the prospect of continuation.

As for a new Scottish cardinal, given the size of its population there's really no need for one. And the church, at this juncture, would prefer to just get on with it.

No new cardinal also creates a balance within the church either end of the M8, with Archbishop Leo Cushley, appointed by Francis, in particular refreshing Catholicism's public image in Scotland.

Those who publicly accused O'Brien have, it seems, got what they want. He has been removed from public life, his hypocrisy exposed, their anonymity maintained and clerical careers retained.

The historic abuse investigation is under way, new bishops installed and the clergy speak as much about foodbanks as they do sex.

Secularism's march shows no sign of abating, church controversies will re-emerge but in 2014 the Catholic Church marks over 1000 years in Scottish life in arguably better health than it did last year.

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