Obituary: Fr Noel Barry, Priest and press secretary

Born: 6 December, 1956, in Cork, Republic of Ireland. Died: 1 June, 2015, in Glasgow, aged 59.

Father Noel Barry, Press secretary to Cardinal Thomas Winning during a challenging time for the Catholic Church. Picture: Contributed

Father Noel Barry, who has died of cancer aged 59, was press secretary to the late Cardinal Thomas J Winning in the Archdiocese of Glasgow during a turbulent time for Catholic Church in Scotland.

He was also a director and managing editor of Flourish, the official archdiocesan journal, whose columnists included Alex Salmond and George Galloway.

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The newspaper was launched by the cardinal in anticipation of the hugely successful visit by Pope Saint John Paul II to Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1982.

Father Barry, who cut his teeth as press officer for Dr Winning’s pastoral plan in 1984, showed such promise in that role that after just a year in post he was promoted to succeed Father Tom Connolly to take charge of the whole media operation.

Despite the boost from the papal events at Bellahouston and Murrayfield, the Church in Scotland had to face the media spotlight over turbulent episodes, which included a number of the younger clergy leaving the priesthood to get married.

There was also a crisis in relation to vocations to the priesthood as recruitment dropped dramatically and seminaries, including the 
architectural award-winning St Peter’s College, Cardross, were closed.

Ironically, it was a tabloid sex scandal followed by a widely publicised defamation action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh that led to Father Barry’s own fall from grace. Until then he was widely perceived to be one of the rising stars in the Church in Scotland and destined to become a bishop.

He was given a prosperous middle-class parish, St Joseph’s, Milngavie, as parish priest, and was named Vicar Episcopal for Communications. One description of him in the media at the time said he was “one of the most prominent figures in the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland”.

Unfortunately, that reference was contained in an article which said he was set to be stripped of his high-profile role as Cardinal Winning’s spokesman and speech writer despite eventually winning his libel victory against the Sun.

That did not happen immediately after the court case in which he was awarded damages of £45,000 when a jury found he had been libelled.

The allegations that he had conducted a sexual relationship with a Glasgow head teacher were deemed to be unfounded. The woman was awarded £120,000 by the judge.

It was not the allegations themselves that led to Father Barry withdrawing from the priesthood but the fact that during evidence the priest himself admitted he was in love with another woman, a former nun.

He admitted that they had shared a room together over two days at a hotel in Preston, Lancashire, although he denied having sex with her.

The court heard that when the woman, who later married and became a mother of two, asked Dr Winning for assistance to protect her family’s privacy at the time of the libel suit his response had been unsympathetic.

Three years had elapsed between the publication of the allegations and the court case and in 1999, Father Barry, who was then 42, applied for and was granted indefinite leave from his post at St Joseph’s, Milngavie.

Many of his congregation were in tears that day and one man said: “We are all human and fall by the wayside, but Father Barry has done a lot for the parish.”

Cardinal Winning described Father Barry as “a man of good standing” and dismissed as “rubbish” stories that he had sacked his press secretary.

Clearly distressed, Father Barry told parishioners: “The past year has been the most exhausting of my life. More and more, I’ve felt the need to regain my energies – physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Father Barry, who returned to the priesthood after three years in exile, was well loved by his parishioners at Lambhill.

He was born in Cork in Ireland and ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Charles Renfrew at the Marian shrine in Knock, County Mayo, in 1981.

He had attended St Peter’s College, Cardross, and Newlands, Glasgow, and the Royal Scots College in Valladolid, Spain, and completed a spell as a deacon at St Peter’s, Bellsmyre, Dumbarton.

He also held posts at The Holy Family and St Ninian’s church in Kirkintilloch, and later in Milngavie where he had moved to from St Ninian’s, Knightswood.

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia has urged Catholics to pray for the repose of the soul of Father Barry, who was finally parish priest of St Agnes’, Lambhill, and who died in the Beatson Oncology Unit on Monday.

Archbishop Tartaglia said: “For the last 13 years, Fr Noel Barry has been a dedicated and much appreciated parish priest of St Agnes’.

“For the last few years, he has fought a remarkably courageous battle against an aggressive cancer.

“During that time, and even while undergoing complex treatment, he never once asked to be relieved of his duties.

“I saw him a few days before he died, and, to the very end, he just wanted to get back to his parish. May he rest in peace.”