Bishop of Motherwell quits over sex scandal

Bishop Joseph Devine: An outspoken, controversial figure. Picture: Complimentary
Bishop Joseph Devine: An outspoken, controversial figure. Picture: Complimentary
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THE Catholic Church has confirmed that the resignation of Bishop Joseph Devine has been accepted by the Pope.

The controversial Bishop of Motherwell had handed in his resignation in August last year upon reaching the age of 75, but will now go into retirement before a permanent replacement can be found, following what was understood to be as an “outpouring of discontent” by clergy over his management of the diocese.

Often bishops will tender their resignation at 75, but can then delay their departure for up to two years until a suitable replacement is appointed.

A Catholic Church spokesman said yesterday that the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini – the Pope’s permanent diplomatic representative in the UK – will meet the clergy of the diocese today, where he will announce the bishop’s resignation. The spokesman said the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, Joe Toal, would be appointed as apostolic administrator as a temporary replacement.

Bishop Toal said: “I will strive to serve the diocese and the church in every way I can. I offer my thanks to Bishop Devine for his long service to the diocese and I look forward to working with the clergy, religious and lay faithful of Motherwell.”

It is believed that Bishop Divine’s mishandling of a scandal surrounding an e-book, Priesthood in Crisis – written by serving priest Father Matthew Despard – pushed clergy within the diocese to call for his departure.

Fr Despard alleged in the book, published earlier this year on Amazon, that the Catholic Church in Scotland had covered up sexual misconduct in junior seminaries, claiming that when he alerted church authorities to the issue, nothing was done.

Last night, a source close to the Catholic Church said there had been rumours of a letter sent to the Nuncio expressing “no confidence” in Bishop Devine.

“Joe Devine has been viewed as poor at management and I think the priests have had enough. His handling of the Fr Despard saga was the straw that broke the camel’s back. There has been years of mismanagement and bewilderment among the priests.”

It is understood the book has now been withdrawn from sale, after the author received two separate legal complaints. Written three years ago, but published only after the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien earlier this year, the book named a number of serving priests whom the author described as having taken part in homosexual activity while at Chesters seminary in Bearsden, later renamed Scotus College.

Fr Despard alleged that those who rebuffed homosexual advances were subjected to bullying. The book was also critical of Archbishop Philip Tartaglia’s term as rector of Chesters College.

Moves were made by Bishop Devine that could have led to Fr Despard being removed from his parish or even the priesthood, but these were believed to have been abandoned amid fears that it would fuel the row.

During recent years, Bishop Devine has made outspoken attacks on abortion and gay marriage. However, his personal conduct in recent years has also attracted headlines, with a furore over an alleged £650,000 spent to build a home for himself and his cleaner, having demolished his £300,000 Victorian home in Hamilton because of damp.

A row also flared over surgery he underwent at a private hospital to have his nose rebuilt, paid for in part by insurance funded by his parishioners.

However, a spokesman for the Diocese of Motherwell said Bishop Devine was “now relieved and happy” that his role was “being handed initially to an administrator and in the fullness of time to a younger man”.

He added: “He is greatly appreciative of the loyalty, support and generosity that he has received, not only from his own congregations but from people of all faiths and none.”