A PRIEST has denied he targeted a fellow clergyman after being offended at a controversial book that alleged a gay mafia was operating within the Catholic Church.

Father William Nolan, 60, replaced Father Matthew Despard at St John Ogilvie Church in High Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, after Father Despard was ordered out by the Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Toal.

Father Despard had been suspended after writing the book, Priesthood In Crisis. It was later withdrawn after threats of legal action were made.

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Bishop Toal ordered Father Despard to leave his parish house in November 2013 but the priest refused.

The Church launched a legal action to evict him and yesterday Hamilton Sheriff Court heard Father Nolan reject claims he had searched Father Despard's belongings while staying at the property.

Under questioning from Father Despard's lawyer, Hugh Neilson, in court, Father Nolan branded the book offensive.

He said: "I did read the book when it came out and I thought it was an incredible book for a parish priest to have written.

"At the start of the book he refers to a conversation he had with a parishioner and while he doesn't name the parishioner everyone in Blantyre must know who that was. I thought that was inappropriate. I thought the book was an offence to the people involved, an offence to the prie­st-hood and an offence to the diocese.

"There was some kind of minor reference to me in the book but I didn't take personal offence from it. I just found the whole book offensive."

Mr Neilson said Father Despard had published his concerns about inappropriate homosexual behaviour in a "last desperate attempt at bringing this pattern of behaviour to the attention of the public and the authorities".

He accused Father Nolan of being upset that colleagues who attended the priest training school, Blairs College in Aberdeen, with him were mentioned in the book.

The priest said: "No, certainly not. It may well be that some of the people mentioned in the book did go to Blairs. I was conscious I did know some of the people involved in the book and Father Despard's description was not my appreciation of it.

"I have respected his privacy, I have never tried to enter into his own private quarters in the house. I didn't touch any of his stuff, I certainly didn't rifle through it to see what was there."

Father Nolan said he had hired­ ­joiners to force entry into the house and change the locks on two occasions because Father Despard was not allowing him access.

He added: "I needed access to the house to carry out my role as administrator of the parish and I was getting frustrated that I was not getting to do that."

The civil hearing had earlier heard claims by Bishop Toal that Father Despard had booby-trapped the parish house, which he had been ordered to leave after disciplinary measures were started against him.

The bishop had alleged he had hidden a device that let out liquid which had been placed near a door in the property.

The hearing before Sheriff Joyce Powrie has been adjourned until next week.