Jailed priest asks Pope to release him from the clergy
Father Graeme Bell, above, who is currently serving a jail sentence for embezzling almost £100,000 of Catholic Church funds, has asked the Pope to allow him to quit the clergy.
According to this report, Bell, 41, was convicted of stealing from this Ayrshire parish between March and May 2015 after admitting to an online gambling problem.
He had been the parish priest at Our Lady Star of the Sea church, known locally as St Mary’s, in Saltcoats.
The local bishop, William Nolan, reportedly visited Bell’s former congregation and told them the priest has asked to be quit the priesthood, a process known as laicisation.
The move requires the consent of Pope Francis and could take over a year to conclude. When completed it would remove the duty of care the Church would have for Father Bell, as well as any investigation into his behaviour under church, or canon, law.
It is understood he will get day release in the near future and is unlikely to serve the full 10 months of his sentence, during which time he will still be supported by his diocese.
His application to quit will also save the Diocese of Galloway significant administrative expense.
A specialist in canon law, Bell was part of the Catholic church’s national body which deals with disputes between priests and their bishops, meaning the Vatican would have had to appoint a canon lawyer from England or Ireland to carry out the investigation.
One source said:
Bishop Nolan promised to come to Saltcoats and he did, telling the parish what was happening with Father and that he had asked to be laicised. I think that, had there been an investigation, he would have had to leave but this would suggest he’s decided he doesn’t want to live in grace and favour.
It also saves Bill Nolan a lot of hassle with canon lawyers and a case would could have strung along for years. Graeme Bell has probably realised he has cost the church enough.
When he first revealed his misuse of parish funds he was immediately removed from his post and the police informed.
The probe had initially centred on funds set up for pilgrimages to Lourdes and missionary work in Guyana but was quickly widened out to look at all parish finances.
Kilmarnock Sheriff Court heard last month how Father Bell suffered anxiety and depression which:
Reached a stage where he was not behaving as a law abiding individual.
The missing cash has since been returned, with friends and family of the jailed priest raising £43,000, while Father Bell has sought counselling and attended Gamblers’ Anonymous.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Galloway said:
Father Graeme Bell has petitioned Pope Francis to have the obligations of the priestly life lifted so that he can live as a layman. It may take a year to 18 months for this request to be granted.