CV NEWS FEED // The BBC reported on February 12 that the priest who wrote a book accusing the Catholic Church in Scotland of being run by a “powerful gay mafia” says he continues to be bullied by church hierarchy more than 10 years after he published the book.
According to the BBC story, Father Matthew Despard “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,” the BBC report also says.
The controversial 2013 book, which Despard pulled from all libraries and the internet upon a demand from the Vatican, came to light only months before Cardinal Keith O’Brien, a Scottish and Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric, was forced to resign in 2013 amid claims of sexual misconduct by former priests.
Although he remained a Cardinal, O’Brien admitted wrongdoing and decided not to attend the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis. O’Brien died in 2018.
In 2015, two years after the publication of the explosive book, The Herald of Scotland reported that Despard was forced to abandon his parish and spend three months in penance after a diocesan tribunal found him guilty of injuring the reputation of the church and its clergy.
The Herald reported that “in a letter to the priests, the Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Toal, said: ‘The judges determined that of the 21 of the 26 charges brought against Father Despard, five were not proven.’ ‘In the majority of cases, the tribunal ruled that Father Despard had injured the good reputation of a number of people, both lay and clergy….’”
“The bishop added: ‘The bishop regrets that a penal case had to be pursued against Father Despard, but felt it necessary in order to vindicate the reputation of those wrongly accused by him’,” The Herald also reported.
In June 2020, Pat Buckley, an excommunicated former Catholic priest who runs a popular blog he claims is aimed at revealing “the corruption in the Church,” published a 2017 internal letter to the clergy in which Bishop Toal admitted that the Vatican had opened the path for Despard to return to ministry, but said that he was requesting additional conditions.
The internal letter reads:
Fr Despard has requested that he now be allowed to return to public priestly ministry by being given a new pastoral assignment in the Diocese of Motherwell. Conscious of my canonical obligation to ensure that a person nominated to an ecclesiastical office possesses the required suitability for that office, and having consulted the Motherwell Diocesan Consultors, I have asked Fr Despard to fulfill certain requirements. I await his response indicating his willingness to accept and carry out to my satisfaction these requirements.
Fr. Despard told the BBC that 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 added.
According to Despard, “Bishop Toal now wants me to publicly apologize but I don’t see the reason to say sorry. I’m not sorry for telling the truth.”
Despard also told the BBC that “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 is 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,” the priest said.
During the 10 years of his ordeal, Despard has been supported by a significant number of laypeople, which have staged silent protests and prayer campaigns at various times.
After the BBC story was published, the manager of a Facebook account called “Fr Matthew Despard Action Group,” reacted saying: “Great to see Fr Matt in the headlines again today. BBC Scotland news and Daily Record article. First time I have seen that he needs to apologize to those he named in the book as part of the Bishop Toal requirement for a return to full duties, even though he only told the truth.”
“I don’t see anything in the catechism teaching that would make that necessary, so it does seem very strange at best, and is not helping promote the outreach to the thousands of good people who have not returned to church following covid,” the post stated.