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INSIDE TRACK: Church crisis is not going to go away

HE offered an olive branch but the strange case of Scotland's "whistleblowing rebel priest" is not going away any time soon.

After a year of standing by his allegations of powerful gay cliques within the clergy and resisting moves by the Catholic hierarchy against him, Father Matthew Despard made reconciliatory overtures last weekend.

According to his lawyer, Father Despard now seeks a "brotherly" way out of the legal actions racking up against him, talking of "respect and honour" and "resolving breaches in relations".

Given the likely eviction from his parish house and the potential of being returned to civilian life, perhaps that is understandable for a guy approaching 50 with no obvious career to fall back on.

Proceedings under church law against him for publication of his memoirs, Priesthood In Crisis, must be completed and talk of civil action by several of those mentioned in the book continues.

So, a last throw of the dice by Father Despard? Perhaps, but comments by the Lanarkshire priest's lawyer will have caused some consternation in Catholic circles.

According to (former sheriff) Hugh Neilson, the church might want to seek a "Christian way forward that doesn't involve it in any further adverse publicity".

As I have said here previously, 2013 was the Scottish Catholic Church's annus horribilis and there is a compelling argument the election of Pope Francis saved the church from near collapse in this country.

But while much of the Catholic world enjoys the "Francis effect" the Church in Scotland has last year's residue to deal with.

The Vatican's chief sex crimes prosecutor visited last month to investigate the gay sex scandal around Cardinal Keith O'Brien and has returned to Rome with his findings. There will be fall-out.

The case of Father Pat Lawson, who claims he has been targeted for speaking out against another priest who abused him but who the church insists is too ill, continues, with an action in the civil courts also instigated by the Ayrshire priest.

Regardless of the pressing need to close and merge parishes in the west of the country, there will be much pain and anguish, much of it undoubtedly public. And Father Despard's own case comes with a promise to investigate the claims of "sexual bullying" in seminaries and beyond. What will this reveal?

The Scottish Catholic Church is rightly proud of halting its comparative decline and boosting the same number of regular worshippers as the Church Of Scotland. For a clear, moral voice on issues it is the go-to faith for we in the media. But that brings with it added focus.

Installing Archbishop Leo Cushley to Edinburgh and Bishop John Keenan to Paisley marks a clear Francis stamp on the Scottish church, but the aftershocks of 2013 and what went before will still rumble.

The Church just wants to get on with its business. Father Despard's case suggests that might still be a way off.

And his lawyer's warning of "further adverse publicity" is unlikely to be welcomed as brotherly.

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