Scotland's Catholic leadership has appealed to the Vatican to take action on Cardinal Keith O’Brien after it emerged the disgraced cleric had returned to live in Scotland.

Within hours of revelations that the Cardinal had been seen publicly for the first time since the scandal surrounding his gay relationships and abuse allegations broke, senior figures in the Church called on Rome to initiate moves to keep him away from public life.

The return has also angered one former trainee priest who claims to have been abused by the Cardinal, telling The Herald of his determination to unsettle the 75-year-old churchman’s “nice little retirement plans” with legal action.

The Church fears Cardinal O’Brien’s re-emergence in Scotland could deepen the crisis brought on by the revelations, with no cleric having the authority to instruct him to either remain silent, retire to a monastery or move from Scotland.

Despite resigning as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh after admitting to sexual activity spanning decades, he remains a cardinal and the most senior figure in the Catholic Church in Scotland.

His decision to return is being seen as Cardinal O’Brien believing the storm generated by the revelations has passed, but has angered leading Catholics for disregarding the impact of his return on the church or his alleged victims.

The former seminarian, now in his 50s, said:“Keith O’Brien is giving the impression he wants a nice peaceful little retirement now. My experience hasn’t left me for decades and as far as I’m concerned this brings things very much back into focus. I have an issue with Keith O’Brien and it needs dealt with.”

One source added: “There’s nothing stopping O’Brien putting on his red hat this evening and saying mass wherever he wants. It would be a brave priest to stand in his way.”

The church confirmed it has referred the matter to the Vatican, a task most likely to have been carried out by Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia in his capacity as president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.

It is the first known move by the Scottish Catholic Church to appeal for action against the Cardinal and comes after it emerged Cardinal O’Brien had moved belongings from his official residence in Edinburgh’s Morningside to a vacant church-owned property in Dunbar in East Lothian, where he has regularly spent weekends in recent years.

The Cardinal, who was born in County Antrim, is reported to have said that his “plan is to move here ultimately to relax and enjoy my retirement”, adding he does not want to “go back to Ireland at the present time as all my friends are here in Scotland”.

The Herald understands Cardinal O’Brien believes it could take a year before the Vatican takes any action against him and, having settled back into Dunbar, it would become more difficult to dislodge him.

Despite the hierarchy’s fear and ire, the return is said to have some support among parishioners in Dunbar.

But one source said: “Keith O’Brien needs to be instructed and no-one in Scotland can do that. As a cardinal, if he pops up and speaks publicly about any of this no-one here can stop him.

“Returning just two months down the line shows he believes the dust has settled, the storm is over and it’s the right time for him to return home to slowly and gradually re-emerge. That shows no thought or regard for the church. He’s still causing immense damage and problems with this and action should be taken by Rome.”

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: “The church was not informed of any intention on Cardinal O’Brien’s part to move into the parish house in Dunbar.

“The matter has been referred to the Holy See with whom any decision on his future will lie.”

Cardinal O’Brien was unavailable and close friends contacted by The Herald refused to comment on his return.