THE suspension of a priest who spoke out about alleged homosexual bullying in the Catholic church led to a furious congregation walking out of mass in protest.

Only a handful of parishioners remained to take mass at St John Ogilvie's Church in High Blantyre yesterday with the Archdiocese of Motherwell's acting Bishop Joseph Toal after Father Matthew Despard was removed from his ministry the night before.

Before they went into church, people signed a petition calling for the reinstatement of Father Despard, suspended for writing a controversial memoir that claimed there is a culture of homosexual bullying in the church.

When Bishop Toal, accompanied by Father William Nolan, tried to take mass, Geraldine Penches said she wanted to make a statement and received a roar of applause from the congregation in a packed church in which many stood at the back.

Her short statement referred to Father Despard as "a very honest man" and said: "This is more scandal to rock the Catholic church which has to be hushed up.

"Because Father tells the truth he is removed from his priestly duties. We the people are the church, not the bishops."

After her remarks, the Bishop tried to continue with mass but the congregation walked out.

Angry scenes broke out among the congregation on Saturday when Bishop Toal informed them "a penal judicial process" had been instituted against Father Despard as a result of his book, Crisis in the Priesthood.

In April, Joseph Devine, the previous Bishop of Motherwell, said no action would be taken against Father Despard.