Priest in book row quits his parish role

Fr Matthew Despard has stepped down as parish priest at John Ogilvie Church in Blantyre after an investigation by Bishop Joseph Toal.
Fr Matthew Despard has stepped down as parish priest at John Ogilvie Church in Blantyre after an investigation by Bishop Joseph Toal.

A priest from Motherwell who’s at the centre of a row over a book alleging sexual misconduct has quit his parish role.

Fr Matthew Despard was accused by Bishop Joseph Toal of “causing considerable scandal” with his publication and offending many parishioners who could no longer attend mass because of him.

However, a support group set up for the priest branded the bishop’s comments “disgraceful” and claimed attendance at St John Ogilvie in Blantyre has fallen because of the way the Bishop of Motherwell has treated him.

Fr Despard had been suspended from his duties for three years after publishing Priesthood in Crisis. Last year the diocese won a court battle to have him evicted from the parish house and last month it emerged his elderly parents could lose their Motherwell home, which is in Fr Despard’s name, in legal action aimed at recovering costs from him.

Bishop Toal asked Fr Despard to resign, saying there were “grave issues” about his behaviour even before the book’s publication.

The bishop wrote: “It appears throughout your time as parish priest you seem to have spoken to or clashed with parishioners in a manner that caused them to leave the parish deeply distressed and offended by the way they had been treated.”

Bishop Toal said the situation had been “tremendously exacerbated” by what Fr Despard had written in the book.

He added that statements by parishioners and Fr Brian Lamb, of neighbouring St Joseph’s, “show that those offended by you find it very difficult to hold you in any esteem as their parish priest”.

It’s understood Fr Despard resigned rather than risk being removed from the priesthood completely.

A spokesman for his support group disputed the bishop’s findings, saying: “The Saturday night service at St John Ogilvie was always attended by 200-300 people. Now there are 50 or fewer. That certainly does not suggest that Fr Despard was not respected as a priest or a person.”