A priest who took a court case against his former gay lover over ownership of a house in Donegal is to take a break from his work in his Mayo parish.
Dr John Fleming, the Bishop of Killala, admitted in a letter to parishioners on Sunday that Fr Gabriel Rosbotham’s public legal battle with a former Franciscan brother had come as a ‘complete shock’ to him.
Fr Rosbotham was awarded a 27 percent share in the property by a judge last week.
He had first met the home owner Hugh Crawford when they were both training as Franciscan Brothers in 1980s.
Crawford subsequently left the Brothers while Fr Rosbotham went on to serve in two Mayo parishes.
A letter from Bishop Fleming was read out at all masses in the diocese of Killala on Sunday addressing the case of Fr Rosbotham and Crawford.
Dr Fleming wrote: “The court case came as a complete shock to me, to the priests of the diocese and I am sure to all of you.
“The case has caused deep distress among the diocese and has left many people hurt, distressed or disillusioned.”
The Irish Times reports that Dr Fleming went on to praise Fr Rosbotham for his parochial work and called for forgiveness.
He added: “For the past 17 years Father Gabriel has ministered in this diocese, in your parishes, and he has received great appreciation for his pastoral care, his ability to relate to the young, his effectiveness as a preacher and, in particular, for his singing at Mass.
“I have met him since the case ended on Friday. He has decided to take some time to himself, away from the diocese, to reflect on his life, on the commitments he made and on his ministry, as well as to think about the future.
“The Church and, in particular, the Christian community of which each of us is a member, is the place where we are joined to Christ, our Lord, and where we support one another in good times and in bad. It is also the place where we find forgiveness, hope, encouragement and healing.
“I hope and pray during these coming weeks and months that the Lord will be with all of us to renew our own faith, and the faith and trust of this community.”
The report adds that Judge Keenan Johnson told Donegal Town Circuit Court that he calculated ownership of the house based on how much money he believed each party had contributed to the property.
The property is to be divided with Crawford getting a 73 percent share of any future sale of the house purchased in 1994.
Crawford applied to add Fr Rosbotham’s name to the title deeds in 2000 as the priest had also left the Franciscans, which has a vow of poverty and a ban on ownership of property, to become a curate in Ballina, Co Mayo.
Fr Rosbotham told the court that he had paid towards the mortgage and the upkeep of the house.
The paper reports that when he left the Franciscans in 1997 to become a diocesan priest in Ballina, he would travel to stay with Crawford ‘once or twice a week.’
The court heard he had visited more often when he had been a Franciscan in Rossnowlagh.
Fr Rosbotham told the court that their relationship ended because of ‘interference’ from Crawford’s family in early 2002.
The priest alleged that the pair agreed to sell the house and split the money. Legal action began over ownership of the cottage in 2004.