THE Catholic cleric appointed in the wake of Cardinal Keith O'Brien's departure has warned of a "drift" within the Church unless the Vatican moves to address a vacuum within the senior clergy in Scotland.

Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh Leo Cushley said he would be delighted if Pope Francis considered the appointment of new Scottish bishops in the short term to fill a number of vacancies.

Of the eight dioceses in Scotland, currently only four have full-time bishops not waiting to leave - Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Argyll and the Isles.

"There are a couple of good lads out there. I thought one of them would get this job. And hopefully that means one of them is now free to go somewhere else," Archbishop Cushley said.

"I think we all have a fair idea of who these candidates might be but that's something done in its own way. It may take a while.

"There's a rhythm of work that's beyond our control that involves the Nuncio piecing things together, proposing names, an examination of each candidate, collaboration of those in Scotland, that goes to Rome and depending on the bulk of work Rome has to deal with."

He added: "It could be six months before we see the next [bishop] but that's a complete guess.

However, we are a small country with a small number of bishops and we are going to need them sooner or later because when there's a vacuum at the top it starts, quietly, slowly but surely, to drift.

So I'd be delighted if the Holy Father gets round to looking at Scotland again as soon as possible."

Monsignor Patrick Burke, a Scottish Vatican official who was close to Pope Benedict XVI, is among those being touted for one of the posts.

Last week, in his first interview since his appointment, the new Archbishop signalled a shift away from focussing on moral issues, telling The Herald his priority while in office would be furthering the church's standing on tackling social problems.

Before taking up the post in Edinburgh, Archbishop Cushley was a diplomat in the Vatican and during his career served in Burundi and Rwanda in east central Africa.