Northern Ireland-born Catholic Church leader Cardinal Keith O'Brien was in a "longstanding physical relationship" with one of the men whose recent allegations brought about his downfall, it has been claimed.
The former head of the Catholic Church in Scotland and a man renowned for railing against homosexuality is said to have confessed to the relationship after it was recently revealed that there had been several complaints to the Vatican about his sexual behaviour towards priests in the 1980s.
The Herald newspaper claims that the length of the relationship explains why the Ballycastle native (75) spoke of his time as a "priest, bishop and cardinal" when he made his brief apology earlier this month admitting that his "sexual conduct" had fallen below the standards expected of him.
It is believed the former partner, who was due to speak to the newspaper before being advised otherwise by his bishop, now lives outside Scotland. The report will pile further pressure on the cardinal to make a much more detailed public response to the allegations against him.
Cardinal O'Brien, then Britain's most senior cleric, stepped down one week after accusations against him first surfaced in public from four unnamed priests who said he had approached them sexually in the 1980s. The allegations were initially made to the Vatican's ambassador to Britain and passed up the chain to Rome, but became public when a newspaper printed details last month.
Cardinal O'Brien initially stepped down from the Church without admitting there was any substance to the allegations.
A week later he released a brief apology which suggested there was some truth in what the priests were saying. But the statement lacked precise detail.
Since then new allegations have emerged including an accusation he tried to grope a man on the night he was made Cardinal. The Vatican is conducting an inquiry.
According to the Herald, the man who had been in a long-term relationship with the Cardinal is known to have been in regular phone contact with him until recently and was a frequent visitor to St Benets, his official residence in Edinburgh's Morningside.
Gay rights groups called on the cardinal to make a personal apology over his statements on homosex- uality, at one point calling it a "grotesque subversion".
Although he was publicly opposed to any acceptance of homosexual relationships he ratcheted up his rhetoric when plans for gay marriage were announced.