THE investigation into the Scots parish priest who wrote a memoir claiming there was a culture of "homosexual bullying" in the Catholic Church was instigated by Bishop of Motherwell Joseph Devine before he stepped down from his role, it can be revealed.

Last week, the Sunday Herald told how parishioners at St John Ogilvie's Church in High Blantyre were furious when it was announced just before evening mass that Father Matthew Despard was suspended and "a penal judicial process" had been launched against him.

The move by the acting Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Toal, prompted surprise as Devine issued a notice in April saying further action would not be taken against Despard when the book came out.

Now it has emerged that although Devine did not proceed with a local tribunal, he did instigate the ­canonical case now under way.

The fresh details emerged as the new Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Leo Cushley, said he believed the Vatican will take no further action against his disgraced predecessor Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who stepped down in February after three priests and a former priest made allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour by him.

Details of the Despard case were revealed in a letter Devine sent to clergy in his diocese in April that the Sunday Herald has now seen. Referring to Despard, it stated: "I wish to inform you that I have decided not to proceed with the proposed tribunal of inquiry and instead seek another way to resolve the matter … the matter has now become the object of a formal canonical process under the auspices, as the law permits, of the Vicar General."

He added: "I wish to assure you that it will be pursued diligently in order to discover the truth."

Devine, who tendered his ­resignation as Bishop of Motherwell in August 2012 and stepped down 10 months later, said in the letter the canonical process would become Bishop Toal's responsibility. The case was being sent to the Scottish Inter-Diocesan Tribunal, which deals with canon law.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said suggestions Devine had said no further action would be taken were wrong, but Devine had not taken further action as he had passed the matter to the inter-diocesan tribunal.

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

The book, called Priesthood In Crisis, was published on Amazon after the O'Brien scandal, but has since been withdrawn.

Last week, a spokesman for Bishop Toal said he felt it appropriate to remove Father Despard from parish ministry until the "judicial process has run its course".

The news, broken to parishioners just before vigil mass on Saturday, led to chaotic scenes in the church.An eyewitness described it as "close to a riot" with children in tears.

An online petition calling for the suspension of Despard to be lifted has attracted nearly 500 signatures.

Archbishop Cushley commented yesterday on the prospect of the Vatican pursuing further action over O'Brien. He said: "My impression is that Rome has finished with this. They will monitor the situation."

O'Brien was reportedly exiled from Scotland by the Vatican after apologising for his actions. Archbishop Cushley added it was "a reasonable assumption" O'Brien would not be back in the near future.