Let's spell this out bluntly. The most senior Catholic cleric in Britain, Cardinal Keith O'Brien of St Andrews and Edinburgh, has been forced to resign ahead of schedule following allegations that he made homosexual advances to younger clergy in his diocese – and isn't expected to attend the conclave to elect the next Pope. There will now be no Briton in the Sistine Chapel when voting takes place. O'Brien's early resignation is believed to have been at the personal insistence of Benedict XVI, in one of his last acts as Pope.
The Cardinal denies the allegations, whose publication has been carefully timed – but his decision will remind the cardinals meeting in Rome next month that allegations against its clergy have now permeated the entire institution.
The next Pope's first priority must be to restore confidence in the sexual probity of the Church. Who on earth is going to be able to do that?
Watch out for real fireworks in Scotland, where tribal Catholicism is dying off. Cardinal O'Brien was a firebrand on the subject of gay sex and the unsuitability of homosexuals for clerical office; his counterpart in Glasgow, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, is even more outspoken, recently suggesting that a Scottish MP's death was hastened by his homosexuality.
If the charges against O'Brien have any substance to them, then the public credibility of the Scottish Catholic Church will collapse. And the rejoicing of the enemies of conservative Catholicism, who are especially vocal in Scotland, will be deafening.