Priest protest staged outside Bishop of Motherwell’s residence

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Supporters of a Roman Catholic priest suspended after making gay bullying claims have staged a protest outside their bishop’s residence in Bellshill.

More than 60 demonstrators, many holding placards, demanded the reinstatement of Fr Matthew Despard who is from Motherwell.

The protest was held exactly six years after the priest was suspended from his parish position in Blantyre.

Fr Despard, 54, was disciplined after writing and publishing ‘Priesthood in Crisis’ .

The book made claims of sexual bullying within the church.

It was withdrawn after a church tribunal ruled the contents were defamatory.

Fr Despard was suspended in 2013.

He formally quit his role at St John Ogilvie Church three years ago.

He was asked to resign by Bishop of Motherwell Joseph Toal who said his book had caused “considerable scandal”.

The priest’s backers are angry that, despite a church court in Rome “partly reversing” the Scottish tribunal’s decision, he has not been reinstated and appointed to one of the parishes within the diocese.

Anne Simpson, chairperson of a support group, said: “Given the shortage of clergy in this day and age, we can’t afford to be without priests of the calibre of Fr Despard.

“He is dedicated to his priestly vocation.

“He has been treated unjustly.

“ Whatever he has supposedly done wrong he has been punished severely for it.”

After a ten-minute silent protest outside Bishop Toal’s home at St Gerard’s Church, the demonstrators handed over a letter demanding Fr Despard’s immediate reinstatement to a parish within Motherwell Diocese.

The church did not respond to a request for comment.

However, Bishop Toal has said previously that Fr Despard must “fulfil certain requirements” before he can be reinstated.