Catholic Church in Scotland Has Covered up Culture of Sexual Bullying Among Priests, Claims Serving Father

Daily Record
March 24, 2013

Parish priest Matthew Despard

FATHER Matthew Despard says sexual misconduct is rife throughout the church and a "powerful gay mafia" bully and intimidate other priests.

A SERVING priest has accused the Catholic Church in Scotland of covering up a culture of sexual bullying by a powerful gay mafia.

Father Matthew Despard, 48, says sexual misconduct has been rife in junior seminaries, where priests are trained, for decades.

And he claims that when he alerted Church authorities to inappropriate sexual conduct, nothing was done.

Fr Despard, the parish priest of St John Ogilvie church in High Blantyre, Lanarkshire, says he fears for the future of his Church if no action is taken to end the scandal.

He has taken the difficult decision to publish a book on his experiences, Priesthood in Crisis.

Yesterday, he admitted he had struggled with his conscience before going ahead with publication.

The book was first written in 2010 but he self-published it on Amazon’s Kindle store last week in the wake of the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

In the bombshell book, Fr Despard writes: “My concern is that if we don’t face up to what is happening in reality, the Church will suffer enormous damage.

“The accusations I have been making may appear intolerable to some and truly I have trouble making them.

“Over and over, I have to continue to convince myself to keep writing despite the prejudicial nature of what I have to say.

“But so much of the problematic state of the priesthood stems from the junior seminaries, where training took place cut off from the world, that were laws unto themselves, where abuse became so rife that many had to be closed.

“The Catholic Church here in Scotland, and I am ashamed to admit this, has justified itself to Catholic papers by telling lie after lie, denying charges that are true, and claiming they have been defamed when the facts reported in the press are quite simply true.”

The priest’s shocking revelations will be another blow to the Church hierarchy, already reeling from the claims that Cardinal O’Brien tried to seduce a number of trainee priests.

The 74-year-old quit as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh after the accusations by former and serving priests emerged.

Fr Despard says in his book that he was the victim of inappropriate approaches during his time as a seminarian.

And he claims that trainee priests who rebuffed the advances of others were frozen out and subjected to bullying.

He reveals that his his first brush with inappropriate behaviour came when he was a student at Chesters College – later renamed Scotus College – in Bearsden in the late 1980s.

He wrote: “One or two students tried to kiss me when I was there. I did not know what to make of that, whether they were just playing with me or perhaps testing me.

“As it was, the only response I could make was that I was not of the inclination that would engage in that kind of behaviour.”

But he claims that after expressing his distaste, he became a victim of verbal abuse as well as bullying.

He said: “I became much more aware of the types of individuals that were prodding me and I began to observe many explicit indicators of homosexual behaviours that shocked me. I could not help but notice there were cliques of students with homosexual leanings who had ways of manipulating heterosexual students, turning some against others.”

Fr Despard says he alerted authorities to his claims that he had been victimised because he did not accept the sexual approaches made towards him.

And he claims that after he made his complaint verbally to a senior Church figure, the man began to “bluster” but did not investigate his complaint.

During his time at the college, Fr Despard says, he saw numerous trainees quit altogether.

He said one young man was told he had no vocation and asked to leave after making a complaint about an inappropriate advance.

He added: “I learned that there had been a victimisation of another first-year seminarian.

“He refused to conform to their sexually ambivalent behaviour and was subjected to such an extent of ridicule that he lost all his confidence. He chose to leave rather than continue to endure the harassment.”

Fr Despard said a senior clergyman also targeted him during one of his placements as a priest in the west of Scotland.

He said the man was difficult to work with, and threatened him after he turned down a sudden attempt to kiss him.

He wrote: “I was passing him in the corridor on my way to my room when he stopped suddenly and then embraced me.

“It was not the usual guy-on-guy companionable embrace that I was accustomed to but something much more intimate.

“At first I thought his mother had died … But he moved as if to give me a kiss. I found this profoundly disturbing and put my hands on his shoulders and pushed him back.

“He was immediately furious, shouting and gesticulating. He said, ‘So it’s true about you! Well don’t worry, Despard, we’ll soon sort you out. We’ll get you. We’ll destroy you and your family.’

“I could see real anger in his eyes and I was dumbfounded.

“Homosexuality had been rampant in the seminary and I had suffered more than my fair share of isolation and disrespect because I refused to countenance any advances.

“Here were identical behaviours but in my parish priest. He backed away and stomped up the corridor to his own room, leaving me standing there shocked and confused.

“After my rejection of the crude advances, life for me became a misery.

“In retrospect, it now seems to me that the moment in the corridor signalled the initiation of a campaign which, if not significantly overt, was psychologically brutal.”

Fr Despard added he thought there would be no point in going to the authorities for support, because his attacker was part of an “inner circle” and would be protected.

In another chapel, he says, he was verbally and physically abused by the boyfriend of a priest.

Fr Despard insists he did not write the book to spread hatred of homosexuality.

He said: “I have no problem whatever with priests whose natural orientation is homosexual. Where I draw the line is at the acting out of these inclinations, that is wrong.

“It is contrary to the rule of celibacy and brings great scandal to parishes where the activities of such priests have become known.”

But he added that cover-ups and corruption were detracting from the priesthood.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland did not return calls asking for comment.


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