THE Vatican has refused to rule out the attendance of shamed Cardinal Keith O'Brien at a historic meeting of the world's leading Catholic clerics in Rome.

The Consistory, in October, will see cardinals from across the world gather in Rome to discuss the proposed canonisation of former Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, as well as advising Pope Francis on major papal appointments. It is expected to see the creation of around 10 cardinals.

Authorities on Catholic affairs said there was a potential for Cardinal O'Brien to attend. But the prospect of him attending such a high-profile event, just months after admitting decades of sexual behaviour with other clerics and being exiled by the Vatican, would be met with shock by Scotland's Catholics, according to one prominent members of the laiety.

When asked if the Cardinal would be attending the Consistory, the Vatican said yesterday it was in no position to confirm details of the meeting.

It is understood there has been no communication instructing him not to attend and according to one commentator a period of several months of "penitence" out of the public eye could see him sufficiently redeemed in the eyes of the church to take part.

Since being ordered to leave Scotland by the Vatican around two months ago, it is understood Cardinal O'Brien has been staying at an enclosed abbey in the English midlands.

Hugh McLoughlin, an expert in Vatican procedures, said: "In theory the chances of O'Brien being at the Consistory are pretty good. He might be told to stay away as he'd be a source of distraction.

"From the point of view of natural justice I don't see how they could deny him the opportunity to take part. He is by no means the only sinner in the College of Cardinals or the worst. So far he's obeyed what he's been told to do and clearly wants a future within the church. It is possible he could be there."

Former MSP and prominent Catholic Brian Fitzpatrick said: "The Catholics of Scotland would be shocked and I personally would be shocked if he turns up at the Consistory."