'Gay mafia' book claim priest accuses church of bullying

1 week ago 17

Father Matthew Despard

Image caption,

Father Matthew Despard said he had done everything possible to make amends

By Gordon Blackstock

BBC Scotland

A priest who wrote a book accusing the Catholic Church in Scotland of being run by a "powerful gay mafia" says he has been bullied by church hierarchy.

Father Matthew Despard was suspended from parish duties in 2013 after making the claims in a self-published book.

A Vatican court ruling in 2016 cleared the way for a possible return - but the church says he will not be allowed to return until he makes a public apology.

Father Despard said he was not sorry for telling the truth.

He was suspended from his parish at St John Ogilve's in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, after publishing a book called Priesthood in Crisis.

He was forbidden from carrying out certain religious duties, like saying mass, but has remained employed by the church.

Father Depard refused to leave his parish home but was evicted through court action in 2014. He now lives in a flat which is paid for by the church.

His appeal against his suspension was taken to the Roman Rota in Italy in 2016 - an internal Catholic court system.

Its ruling cleared the way for a possible return to parish duties, but the Catholic Church said the ultimate decision is a matter for the Bishop of Motherwell Joseph Toal.

Father Depard said the last 10 years had been "incredibly hard".

"I have privately asked Bishop Toal again and again to return to a parish but have been ignored," he said.

"It's unjust, I'm still waiting here. I have no avenues left but to speak out publicly.

"I feel I have been systematically bullied and silenced by the church."

He said the Vatican court had set out a clear criteria which would allow him to return to service - by withdrawing the book and showing he had done so.

Father Depard said he had done both those things.

"Bishop Toal now wants me to publicly apologise but I don't see the reason to say sorry. I'm not sorry for telling the truth," he added.

The controversial book came to light at the same time as allegations emerged surrounding Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who was Britain's most senior Roman Catholic cleric and head of the Scottish Catholic Church.

Cardinal O'Brien, who died in 2018, was forced to resign in 2013 amid claims of sexual misconduct by three former priests and a former priest dating back to the 1980s.

One of the accusers, Brian Devlin, broke his silence in 2021 in a book where he said the church was beset by silence, secrets and "omerta" - the Italian word for a code of silence practiced by the Mafia.

Father Despard said: "I feel vindicated by some of the things that have come to light about historic practices within the Catholic Church in Scotland.

"In my case, I fear the Catholic Church are waiting for me to die to end the stalemate.

"It's cruel and a sign of the bullying they have been doing for years. I have done everything possible to make amends but won't say sorry."

Image source, Sunday Mail

Image caption,

Fr Despard's story originally appeared in the Sunday Mail newspaper

Father Despard still enjoys support within his former parish.

Retired NHS clerical worker Helen Duddy is a member of a support group in his former parish who are trying to get Father Despard reinstated to church duties.

She said: "He was fantastic for the parish.

"If I was doing a petition tomorrow for his return I would get between 500 and 1,000 signatures locally calling for him to be returned.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Motherwell said: "Father Despard was asked to make a personal apology to those still living who were written about in his book and who remain hurt and offended by it.

"To date these apologies have not been made.

"Any consideration on suitability for public ministry remains a matter for the bishop."

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