By Martin Kelly
Scottish Secretary of State Michael Moore is this evening facing calls to explain why Scotland’s most senior Catholic was not invited to join an official UK delegation on a visit to meet with Pope Benedict XVI.
The official Vatican trip, arranged by the UK Foreign Office, included the head of the Catholic Church in England & Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, but no invite was extended to Scotland’s Cardinal O’Brien.
Cardinal O’Brien, as well as being the most senior clergyman in Scotland, is also the head of the Church in the UK – outranking the Archbishop of Westminster who was personally invited by UK Cabinet Minister Baroness Warsi.
The trip, which took place today, saw the Tory Peer Warsi and other UK Ministers including Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Alan Duncan the Minister for International Development, meet with Vatican officials in face to face talks.
British Ambassador Nigel Baker was also present at the meeting which saw the Pope receive a message from the Queen and a letter from UK PM David Cameron.
Peter Kearney, of the Scottish Catholic Media Office said: “This is a very unfortunate oversight on the part of the UK Government to have pulled together a high level delegation to visit the Holy See to have an audience with the Pope and not, ironically, to have included Britain’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal Keith O’Brien.”
It is understood Cardinal O’Brien only learned of the planned visit last Thursday. Asked why Cardinal O’Brien had not been invited, Michael Moore claimed that it was up to the Vatican to invite him.
However Mr Moore will surely face questions after it emerged that Archbishop Nichols was officially invited by a UK Government Minister. There will also be questions for the UK Government to answer given that the visit was clearly seen as a very high level delegation representing the Queen and the UK PM.
An outspoken figure, Cardinal O’Brien has made his views known on many issues from same sex marriage to nuclear weapons on the Clyde.
The snub will fuel speculation that the Cardinal’s views on Scottish independence may have been behind the invitation oversight.
The senior Clergyman is on record as saying he would be “happy” if Scots voted for independence and that it would be coming “before too long”.