A Roman Catholic priest found guilty of the sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl has confessed that he was in a secret 14-year marriage with a former parishioner, despite his vow of celibacy.
William Finnegan (59) is on trial at Bradford Crown Court, in Britain, accused of grabbing the teenage girl, who cannot be named, and forcefully kissing her.
The priest lawyer, Jeremy Hill-Baker opened the case by announcing “we are going to be hearing evidence from his wife, Beverley Dawson.
“No, you didn’t mishear me. His wife.”
A statement from his diocese said Finnegan had committed “gross breaches of trust”
The statement Monsignor John Wilson, Diocesan administrator, said: “I first want to express my deep sense of shame at the actions of William Finnegan. I also want to express my sorrow and regret to his victim.”
Prosecutor Richard Walters told the court that Finnegan had fallen in love with the teenager which led to the assault, on Easter Sunday, at St. Clare’s Roman Catholic Church, in Fagley, Bradford.
Finnegan, known to his parishioners as Father Bill, denies these charges.
Walters told the court, including Judge Roger Thomas QC, “The defendant grabbed [the girl], pulled her towards him, placed a hand on her bottom and proceeded to kiss her forcefully and passionately with an open mouth.
“Two days later he visited her home address and told her he had sexual feelings towards her.”
Speaking to the jury the priest’s lawyer, Hill-Baker said “You may be thinking that he is only human, that Father Bill, as a Catholic priest, has taken a vow of celibacy, condemning himself to a single and lonely life filled with perhaps an underlying sexual frustration because, let's face it, it is not a natural state for a human to be in.
“It would be understandable for you to be thinking, ‘well, perhaps it just got the best of him with that 17-year-old’.
“Well, we are going to hear evidence from Father Bill and we are going to be hearing evidence from his wife, Beverley Dawson.
“No, you didn’t mishear me. His wife. He and Beverley Dawson secretly married abroad in September 1999. So deeply in love was he that he was prepared to ignore the Catholic Church’s ban on marriage, a secret which has been kept from almost everyone until now.
“Whatever the outcome of this case, his ministry as a Catholic priest is well and truly over.”
The court heard that Finnegan met Dawson, a mother-of-two, when he was a priest in Castleford. After her marriage broke down, they fell in love and travelled to Cyprus to marry in a civil ceremony. They only told their close friends and family the Telegraph and Argus reports.