Priest is guilty of defaming Church
A Roman Catholic Church tribunal in Scotland has found Fr Matthew Despard, above, guilty of 21 counts of defamation against fellow clergymen and parishioners.
The priest, of St John Ogilvie Church in High Blantyre, had already been suspended for published a book entitled Priesthood in Crisis, in which he made the claims that sexual misconduct had been widespread for decades and that Church authorities had refused to take action when alerted.
He maintains that his sole motivation was to expose the culture of abuse and intimidation, especially within junior seminaries, where he alleges he was himself approached inappropriately.
He also insists that he witnessed trainee priests, who spurned the advances of others, being bullied.
A church tribunal considered 26 separate charges against Fr Despard, five of which were not proven. However, the judges found him guilty of the other charges including injuring the reputation of the church and several of its clergy.
A letter to Fr Despard, advising him of the outcome of the proceedings, stated:
In the majority of cases, the tribunal ruled that [Father Despard] had injured the good reputation of a number of people, both lay and clergy.
Following his suspension, many of his parishioners openly supported him and a petition on Change.org, urging the church to lift the suspension, has to date gained in excess of 1,000 signatures. Many of his congregation were angered when they were told by his stand-in, Fr William Nolan, that they had “no permission” to pray for Fr Despard. He will now be formally removed from his parish responsibilities and will spend three months “in penance”.
The Bishop of Motherwell said:
We regret that a penal case had to be pursued against Father Despard, but felt it necessary in order to vindicate the reputation of those wrongly accused by him.
Fr Despard made the allegations following revelations of sexual conduct surrounding the former most senior Scottish Catholic, Cardinal Keith O’Brien. The disgraced O’Brien resigned earlier this year.
According to this report, Despard’s book was first written in 2010 but he self-published it on Amazon’s Kindle store in 2013 in the wake of the O’Brien scandal.
In the book, Despard wrote:
My concern is that if we don’t face up to what is happening in reality, the Church will suffer enormous damage. The accusations I have been making may appear intolerable to some and truly I have trouble making them.
Over and over, I have to continue to convince myself to keep writing despite the prejudicial nature of what I have to say. But so much of the problematic state of the priesthood stems from the junior seminaries, where training took place cut off from the world, that were laws unto themselves, where abuse became so rife that many had to be closed.
The Catholic Church here in Scotland, and I am ashamed to admit this, has justified itself to Catholic papers by telling lie after lie, denying charges that are true, and claiming they have been defamed when the facts reported in the press are quite simply true.
The Church of St John Ogilvie now faces an uncertain future. It is one of a number of Lanarkshire churches facing either closure or a merger with a neighbouring congregation.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn