I’m being bullied for exposing ‘gay mafia’ in Scottish Catholic Church, claims priest

Father Matthew Despard - ‘Gay Mafia’ book claim priest says he is being bullied by Scottish Catholic Church
Father Matthew Despard says he won't apologise, as the Church demands - BBC
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

A priest who said the Scottish Catholic Church was run by a “powerful gay mafia” has claimed he has been bullied because he is not allowed back to work until he apologises.

Father Matthew Despard, who made the incendiary allegations in a self-published book in 2013, was cleared for a possible return to duties by the Vatican in 2016. However, he says he remains banned from carrying out his work because the Church in Scotland is demanding an apology which he refuses to make, claiming he was “telling the truth”.

Father Despard was suspended from his parish at St John Ogilvie’s in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, over his book Priesthood in Crisis. He took his case to the Roman Rota in Italy in 2016, an internal Catholic court system.

It paved the way for his return to work if he withdrew the book, which he has done. However, the Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Toal, said he must say sorry for the “hurt and offence” he had caused.

But Father Despard insisted his claims had been vindicated by revelations about the Scottish church.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, at one time the Catholic Church’s most senior cleric in Britain, resigned in 2013 amid claims of sexual misconduct against several priests dating back to the 1980s.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien
Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned in 2013 amid claims of sexual misconduct against several priests dating back to the 1980s - Getty Images/Jeff J Mitchell

“I have privately asked Bishop Toal again and again to return to a parish but have been ignored,” Father Despard told the BBC.

“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.

“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.

“I feel vindicated by some of the things that have come to light about historic practices within the Catholic Church in Scotland.”

The Church disputed his account, saying it had asked for a “personal apology”. A spokesman declined to clarify who he was asked to apologise to.

Father Despard was evicted from his parish home following court action in 2014. He lives in a flat that is paid for by the Church.

He remains officially employed by the Church but his suspension means he is unable to carry out certain religious duties, such as saying Mass.

He added: “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.”

‘He was fantastic for the parish’

He has some support within his local community, with a Facebook group backing him having over 350 members.

“He was fantastic for the parish,” Helen Duddy, a retired NHS clerical worker who is campaigning to have him reinstated, said.

“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. It’s very sad.”

A spokesman 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.”

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.