21 August 2014, The Tablet

Cleric accused of booby-trapping presbytery

The Bishop of Motherwell has told a sheriff court that a priest “booby-trapped” a church house following attempts to evict him.

Bishop Joseph Toal told Hamilton Sheriff Court that Fr Despard had been asked to leave the house after his suspension over the publication of a book alleging a “gay mafia” in the Scottish Catholic Church. When Fr Despard refused to leave the church attached to St John Ogilvie in High Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, a civil action was brought against him. Following his suspension, Fr Despard was replaced by Fr William Nolan, who experienced harassment and difficulty in gaining access to the house.

In January this year Fr Nolan found a hidden device, believed to have contained curry powder. Bishop Toal told the court: “My memory is that there was some door that once you got it open some sort of liquid or powder would come down on the person who opened it”. He stated that he had written to Fr Despard at the time. “I thought that he would have been involved.” Despite an offer of alternative accommodation, Fr Despard, whose book was withdrawn from circulation under threat of legal action, declined to quit the property at which point the diocese decided to bring a civil action.

Bishop Toal confirmed that this was an unusual case and that he had never previously been required to evict a priest. The incidents took place after Bishop Toal was put in charge of the Motherwell diocese following the resignation of Bishop Joseph Devine. The case, under Sheriff Joyce Powrie, continues.


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