22 November 2013, The Tablet

Scots priest fights for reinstatement

by Kathleen Nutt

A Scottish priest is fighting to be reinstated after his suspension led parishioners to walk out of church just before Mass.

Fr Matthew Despard was removed from his post at St John Ogilvie’s Church in High Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, last weekend after publishing a controversial memoir earlier this year claiming there was a culture of homosexual bullying in the Catholic Church in Scotland.

On Saturday, just before he was due to say Mass, a statement on the suspension was read to the congregation by Bishop Joseph Toal, the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles and apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Motherwell. It sparked a walkout by parishioners, some in tears, amid scenes described as a near riot. Many in the congregation also left the following day when Bishop Toal turned up to say Sunday morning Mass.

Hugh Neilson, Fr Despard’s lawyer, told The Tablet that the priest has written to Bishop Toal asking to be reinstated.

“Fr Matthew was overwhelmed by the affection that the parishioners have shown him. He is asking Bishop Toal to reconsider his decision. He has written to him already and I will be writing a fuller letter on his behalf,” said Mr Neilson, who was at the church both last Saturday and Sunday.

Fr Despard, 48, published the memoir in March as an eBook on Amazon in the wake of the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who admitted instances of sexual impropriety. The book names serving priests and claims senior figures in the Church refused to confront complaints of abuse and bullying. It has since been withdrawn by Amazon.

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