A SCOTTISH priest has been struck off by the Catholic Church after he admitted having a 16-year affair with a “vulnerable” woman who went to him for counselling when he was a parish priest in Australia.

A senior bishop has also issued a “full and sincere apology” to the victim after the priest admitted he “allowed the situation to develop inappropriately” when the woman was feeling “grief, fear and loss of sense of her worth”.

The priest, Alistair Maclellan, now 79, first propositioned Sue Mason in 1999 when she sought “spiritual guidance” after her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

They had a long-term sexual relationship which ended when Mason, 63, caught him having late night chats with another woman on Skype. Maclellan has since returned to Scotland.

Despite Mason’s heartbreak she has insisted she still loves her abuser and blames the Catholic Church for enforcing a vow of celibacy which prevents priests from marrying.

Mason, who has worked as a medical secretary and a carer, first met Maclellan in 1996 when he was parish priest at St John’s Catholic Church in Melbourne.

When her father became ill she approached her parish priest for support. Mason told the Sunday Herald: “I believed in all hope he could inspire God to cure my dad.”

Her father died in 1999 and Mason continued seeing the priest for twice weekly “counselling” and began volunteering at the church.

After she separated from her husband she says Maclellan took advantage of her vulnerability and made sexual advances.

She said: “I was seeing him quite a lot for counselling. We just kissed and it started from there. I fell in love. He was charming and gorgeous. Everybody loved him. He was a wonderful priest.

“I never once stayed at his house but I was there all the time. We usually had sex on Sunday nights but sometimes it was three times a week.

“I felt as if he had me mesmerised. I started cooking him meals, cleaning his house, mowing his lawn, doing his personal washing. It was all voluntary. I got over the guilt because I believe it is not normal for a man to live a life of celibacy. And no one suspected anything because I was always up there anyway, doing duties.”

She described the relationship as “fantastic”, until one night she overheard him talking to another woman.

Mason said: “I had made him a bowl of sausage soup, which he liked, and I took it up to his house after Mass. I came up to the front door and I heard loud voices through the window. I thought he must be on the phone but then I heard a woman with a Scottish accent say: 'Do you know how hard it is for me being away from you, Ally?'

“His response was: 'Don’t you think it’s hard for me being on the other side?' – which I took to mean on the other side of the world.

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I put the food at the front door and left in tears.”

Mason returned later that week to find the priest again speaking to the woman on his laptop. When Mason confronted Mclellan he denied everything. The sex stopped before Easter 2015 with the priest telling Mason it was “penance” [punishment for sin] – but she continued to do his chores.

In September that year Maclellan announced he was retiring to Scotland and revealed his decision to Mason in November.

She said: “I got extremely upset and started screaming at him. I said: 'you’re going back to Scotland to live with her'. I was so upset. I felt used.

“The gut-wrenching thing was the day before he got on the plane he left me his dirty washing and said: 'I’ll see you again – we still have a relationship', which implied he’d be coming back. But I didn’t hear from him again.”

In May 2016, Mason used her savings to travel to Scotland to confront Maclellan at his new home, but was rebuffed.

In an email to her, sent while she was in Glasgow, he said: “... you must move on from me ..."

A week later, when Mason threatened to come to his home, the priest sent a more sinister email.

“Use your brain and develop a new awareness of how to control disappointment,” he told Mason. “I have moved on. Do the same. Do not come here.”

Mason returned to Australia and, after much “soul searching”, reported the matter to an “alternative dispute resolution process” designed to provide redress to victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by priests who fall within the jurisdiction of the Catholic Archdiocese where she lived.

Mason said: “We had a sexual relationship for a good 16 years. This is why I find it very hard to accept this rejection. No one has ever done this to me before. I’m not a floozy. I don’t go sleeping around with people. Ally was my only sexual relationship, apart from my husband.

“I still love Ally, even though he’s a bastard. He told me he loved me over and over again. I wouldn’t have sex with a man who didn’t love me.”

Peter O’Callaghan QC, an Independent Commissioner in Australia dealing with cases of abuse by Catholic clergy, put the allegations to the priest. In June last year Mclellan replied: “In response to your letter I regretfully admit to behaving in a manner that was inconsistent with the public vows and integrity of the ministerial relationship.

“The relationship with Sue Mason began in 1988 when I was asked to support and guide her in circumstances causing her grief, fear and loss of sense of her worth. Sadly some years later I allowed the situation to develop inappropriately.”

O’Callaghan’s office then wrote to Mason to confirm that “he is satisfied you were a victim of sexual abuse by Fr Maclellan.”

The Archbishop also wrote to Mason, saying: “I wish to extend a full and sincere apology to you for the suffering caused by the betrayal of trust by Fr Maclellan over 18 years.

“It is reported that when you were vulnerable and grieving at the time of your father’s illness and death Fr Maclellan initiated a sexual relationship with you. He broke his priestly promise and, in doing so, violated your life by forming a relationship over many years."

The Archbishop committed to “seek a letter of apology from Fr Maclellan” who he said now lives in Scotland and “no longer can practice as a priest”.

He added: “Knowing that it is not possible to change the past, I acknowledge that the wrong done to you and resulting hurt you have experienced will be difficult for you.”

The Archbishop went on to offer counselling to help with the process of “dealing with your abuse”.

Mason said: “I had to see a psychiatrist but I will never get over the mental pain and the stress I went through. He has done the wrong thing by me. He tricked me. I am so sorry for ruining his career as a priest but I wanted to hurt him like he had hurt me.

“I also want people to know the Catholic Church is so wrong in their rules, not allowing men to marry. I have lost so much trust and respect for the Catholic Church.”

The Catholic Church in Scotland declined to comment last night.

The Sunday Herald contacted Maclellan by email, by letter, and visited his home several times to give him the opportunity to comment. He was at his home on Friday evening but did not open his door.