ONE of Scotland's leading churchmen is to step down within weeks, setting in motion a change of hierarchy in the Catholic Church.
The Herald understands Mario Conti will officially be replaced as the Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow within the month, with his successor expected to be the Bishop of Paisley, Philip Tartaglia.
The new Archbishop is expected to be appointed on a significant June feast day in the Catholic calendar, in keeping with the religion's tradition.
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Archbishop Conti is stepping aside after 10 years leading the most populous Catholic community in Scotland.
Hugh McLoughlin, a commentator on Catholic affairs, said: "This is more about a total new broom than individual appointments and more or less all those who will be appointed in the weeks and months ahead will be fully in tune with Pope Benedict's ideas.
"They will be bishops who will fight the Catholic corner, the Christian corner, in the public space – men who don't believe faith is a private matter.
"Archbishop Conti always had a very difficult job, almost an impossible one. He came from outside Glasgow and the west of Scotland and had to follow in the footsteps of Cardinal Tom Winning, who was Archbishop and then Cardinal in Glasgow for 27 years and had a tremendous presence.
"The Glasgow priests will see Tartaglia as one of their own. Maybe better-educated, but one of their own."
The orthodox Bishop Tartaglia is described frequently by commentators as "one of Benedict's men". His expected departure will leave a vacancy in one of the biggest towns in Scotland.
The 61-year-old benefits from being born in Glasgow and is known to the priests across the archdiocese, unlike Archbishop Conti before his appointment in 2002.
Bishop Tartaglia would also be the firm favourite to become the next Scottish Cardinal and could become the most dominant voice in Scottish Catholicism for the best part of the next two decades. His brother, Monsignor Gerard Tartaglia, is a contender for another of the soon-to-be vacated posts.
James MacMillan CBE, Scotland's leading composer and one of the Catholic world's most prominent creative artists, said: "Bishop Tartaglia is a holy and inspirational pastor. He commands not just respect, but affection and trust from ordinary Catholics and clergy alike. He is modest, self-effacing and profoundly pastoral and brings an educated orthodoxy to a Scottish Church in deep need of it. Some feel that his liturgical sense might need a little more guidance – from Rome or elsewhere."
Within weeks of Archbishop Conti stepping aside, Bishop Vincent Logan of Dunkeld, whose archdiocese includes Dundee, will be replaced five years early due to poor health.
Joe Devine, the Bishop of Motherwell, is 75 in August, the age when bishops officially retire. Any decision on the appointments must be approved by the Pope before a suitable replacement is agreed by the Vatican.
However, Bishop Devine has indicated he would wish to take that decision himself, rather than wait to be replaced like the 78-year-old Archbishop Conti.
A successor will also be required for Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of Scotland's Catholics, after he turns 75 in March.
Archbishop Conti, a former Bishop of Aberdeen, took over the Archdiocese of Glasgow in February 2002 after the death of his predecessor Thomas Winning. He has renovated Glasgow Cathedral, been embroiled in rows with the BBC and campaigned against gay marriage. He was vocal in supporting the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi.