23 April 2015, The Tablet

Priest appeals to Rome over defamation ruling

A Church tribunal has found a priest guilty of defamation. Fr Matthew Despard of St John Ogilvie in High Blantyre, Lanarkshire, had made claims in a self-published book called Priesthood in Crisis that a “powerful gay mafia” was behind sexual misconduct and bullying involving seminarians and junior clergy in the Scottish Catholic Church, writes Brian Morton.

Fr Despard was found guilty of 21 of the 26 defamation charges laid against him by a church trial which found the priest’s book had “injured the good reputation of a number of people, both lay and clergy”. Canon law prohibits the injuring of an individual’s good name and the tribunal ruled that Fr Despard should be removed from his parish, undergo a three- month period of prayer and penance and apologise and retract his claims.

The priest is, however, now appealing the decision and will take his case to Rome. Any sanctions against him are suspended until a final ruling has been made. 

In a letter the Bishop of Motherwell Joseph Toal expressed regret that a penal case had to be pursued but said that it had been necessary.

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