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Priest changes locks in battle against parish house eviction

AN OUTSPOKEN priest suspended for alleging a culture of homosexual bullying within the Catholic Church in Scotland is facing legal action to remove him from the parish house.

OUTSPOKEN: Father Matthew Despard was suspended last year.
OUTSPOKEN: Father Matthew Despard was suspended last year.

Father Matthew Despard, who has been suspended since last November, is alleged to be refusing to leave at the presbytery house of St John Ogilvie, High Blantyre, Lanarkshire, having changed the locks.

He continues to live in the property against the will of the interim Bishop Of Motherwell Joseph Toal, leading to the start of court action against him.

Father Despard, who has also faced threats of civil action by fellow priests who believe they have been defamed in his book, Priesthood In Crisis, was due to appear at Hamilton Sheriff Court last week as part of the action but the matter did not progress.

He had been offered alternative accommodation outwith the parish while the investigation was under way but snubbed the offer.

The legal action was instigated in the name of his stand-in, the Reverend William Nolan.

Father Despard was suspended amid dramatic scenes last November after a penal judicial process was launched and Bishop Toal read a public statement at a Saturday evening Mass, eight months after his book was put on sale on the internet retailer Amazon.

The 48-year-old priest published his book in the aftermath of the resignation of Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who was stood down after admitting to decades of sexual encounters with other Catholic clergy.

In the book Father Despard claims he was approached inappropriately as a seminarian and said trainee priests who spurned advances of others were bullied. He also complained of having his claims ignored.

The book has since been ­withdrawn by Amazon, following the legal threats.

Church sources told The Herald that, as well as investigating Father Despard's conduct in releasing the book and its impact on serving clergy, any investigation would have to examine what is alleged within it.

The issue has caused a deep rift within the parish.

A senior figure within the Motherwell Diocese said: "It boils down to this: Matthew Despard had been ordered to leave the church house and has refused to do so and has since changed the locks. The Diocese has now started a legal process to repossess the house."

Local residents started a petition to remove Father Despard's suspension, with more than 1300 signatures added in support of his return.

Earlier this month it was handed it into the Diocese Of Motherwell offices, with another copy submitted to the head­quarters of the Diocese Of Argyll And The Isles, which is headed by Bishop Toal.

But there are other complaints that Father Despard's book has "decimated" the parish and that he has driven many members of the congregation away.

It is also claimed his main support is coming from a group of orthodox lay Catholics vehemently opposed to homosexuality within the church.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: "Matthew Despard continues to live at St John Ogilvie's, although Bishop Toal has asked him to live outside the parish of St John Ogilvie during this period in which his penal case is being attended to. Alternative accommodation is being offered to him."

Father Despard was unavail-able for comment at the presbytery.

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