A PRIEST who alleged that a "powerful gay Mafia" was behind sexual bullying in the Scottish catholic Church has been found guilty of defaming churchmen and parishioners.

Father Matthew Despard, of St John Ogilvie in High Blantyre, Lanarkshire, made the claims in a self-published book titled "priesthood in crisis", claiming that sexual misconduct had been widespread in junior seminaries for decades.

He also said he had alerted church authorities, but that nothing had been done.

Father Despard will now be removed from his parish and will spend three months in penance after a church tribunal found him guilty of injuring the reputation of the church and its clergy.

In a letter to the priest, the Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Toal, said: "The judges determined that of the 21 of the 26 charges brought against Father Despard, five were not proven.

"In the majority of cases, the tribunal ruled that Father Despard had injured the good reputation of a number of people, both lay and clergy."

Father Despard did not take part in the tribunal, but was represented by a lawyer.

The bishop added: "The bishop regrets that a penal case had to be pursued against Father Despard, but felt it necessary in order to vindicate the reputation of those wrongly accused by him."

Hundreds of parishioners supported Father Despard when the scandal broke, with many walking out of a highly-charged service that heard he would be removed from not just the church but also the chapel house.

The scandal occurred after Scotland's most senior catholic, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, resigned as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh after three priests and a former priest accused him of sexual misconduct while at college.