Priest is guilty of defaming Church

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, 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

13 responses to “Priest is guilty of defaming Church”

  1. Daz says:

    A little history I learned the other day:

    In 1620, Fr. Joseph Calasanz opened the first of the so-called ‘pious’ or ‘piarist’ schools. Quite altruistic for their time, they were an attempt to extend education to the poor. (Poor boys of course. The wimminz iz not s’posed to be edumicated!) Well aware of the pitfalls, he made a strict rule that no teacher should ever be left alone with a single pupil.

    It took all of twenty nine years for the first scandal to appear. In 1629, Stefano Cherubini, the headmaster of a piarist school in Naples, was found to be sexually abusing pupils. So what did Calasanz do? He promoted Cherubini to ‘Visitor General’ of all pious schools, thus giving him more access to more boys—and he ordered the affair hushed up, and all records burned, in order to safeguard the church’s and the schools’ reputation.

    Sound familiar to anyone?

  2. Vanity Unfair says:
    (Cardiff University: one of very few in the UK teaching Canon Law)
    4. Selection of decision-makers.
    In theory at least, Roman Catholic Church tribunals consist of personnel trained in canon law. In the absence of a sufficient number of trained personnel, the Apostolic Signatura can issue dispensations, allowing untrained personnel to practice under the supervision of trained canonists. …. In diocesan tribunals, personnel are appointed by the diocesan bishop; in interdiocesan tribunals, by the groups of bishops concerned or by the Bishops’ Conference (Dignitas Connubii, Art 33). Appeal tribunals are constituted in the same way as First Instance tribunals (canon 1441). The tribunals of the Holy See are governed by their own norms (canon 1402).

    Well that looks clear enough. The RC Church makes its own laws, appoints its own judges and conducts its own trials and appeals. What could be fairer than that?
    “No-one shall be a judge in his own cause” is one of the foundations of impartial law. It has been completely forgotten here. The report continually stresses that the reputations of the clergy and the church have been injured but that is secondary. The primary concern is whether the author can prove his allegations before a court. It might be just the way this has been reported but that does not seem to have been the guiding principle here. In defamation cases in English law (Scots law might be different; it often is.) juries are still permitted to sit on defamation cases.
    My own opinion is that Canon Law courts should, along with Sharia, Beth Din and their like not be permitted to operate in the UK. “One law for all” should be maintained.

  3. Broga says:

    If you tell the truth about the RC Church, even if you are a priest, the hierarchy will accuse you of defaming it.

  4. barriejohn says:

    When I first came across this story I very nearly fell off my chair (I am now well strapped in in case of further shocks). How could anyone POSSIBLY defame the Catholic Church in Scotland?

  5. L.Long says:

    “guilty of defamation”????
    Who cares, was what he said TRUE!!!! If not then he should be guilty of libel. Since he is not charged with libel then he is being punish for stating the truth. Great moral code RCC!!! And the courts found him guilty of stating the truth??? Well be sure to lie if you ever get to a court cuz truth is dangerous.

  6. John C says:

    A “roman catholic church tribunal “, well theres a valid source of authority to give a hoot about,not.

  7. AgentCormac says:

    Unlike priests and seminary students, the rcc and the truth do not make good bedfellows. And despite its protestations to the contrary, this vile organisation has nothing whatsoever to do with goodness, love, care, or compassion. It is organised crime on scale unlike any other in the world and it would sell its proverbial grandmother to protect its own interests.

  8. 1859 says:

    An honest man telling the truth in a dishonest organisation telling lies. I wish him well and hope he becomes another Luther (well, maybe).

  9. Robster says:

    Bit like a dog chasing its tail. If it wasn’t such a massive source of evil, the Catholic church would be little more than a nasty joke. Oh hang on, it is.

  10. dennis says:

    I hope he writes another book during his penance. maybe titled Truth in Crisis. subtitle maybe ” god has no truth.” then I can applaud his true truth and welcome his reason logic and science conversion.

  11. Lucy1 says:

    We have the laws of libel, for people who write books full of defamatory lies. Since the RC hierarchy have chosen some arcane nonsense rather than calling in real lawyers, I am sure they know that the poor man’s book is true.

  12. barriejohn says:

    Lucy: I experienced the same sort of thing amongst the Brethren, and we know that it is true of other sects, like the Scientologists and JWs. People who step out of line are “disciplined”, even though they have broken no laws. Indeed, when they DO break the law (and I saw this on several occasions) they are very often not brought to justice at all – just as in the RCC. However, in the interests of balance once again, this does not only apply to religious groups. I understand that the SNP have ruled that members are no longer free to criticize the leadership, but what would one expect from a party with the word “nationalist” in its title?

  13. Don Cornetto says:

    It has always been a mystery to me why the Italian Mafia has never branded itself as a religious order and therefore neatly evade the attentions of law. The perfect role model is there in their own country ostentatiously flaunting their immunity.