A Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl has been secretly married for 13 years, a stunned court heard.
Finnegan, 59, broke his vows by marrying one of his parishioners in a
civil ceremony abroad and then continued to do his job.
Bill’ went home to his wife Beverley Dawson, 48, after finishing his
duties every Sunday and returned to his parish base 20 miles away in
Bradford every Tuesday.
Far from being a celibate priest whose actions in kissing a 17-year-old
may have been put down to sexual frustration, Finnegan was enjoying an
active sex life with his wife, the jury heard.
The revelation was made by Finnegan’s barrister as part of his defence case during the trial at Bradford Crown Court.
Whatever the outcome of the case, his career as a priest is over.
Judge Roger Thomas, QC, asked Finnegan before he gave evidence: ‘Your public announcement of this today is news to everyone?’
The defendant replied: ‘It is, and I will be dealt with.’
Finnegan was parish priest at St Clare’s Roman Catholic Church in
Fagley, Bradford, when the alleged assault happened on Easter Sunday
He denies sexually assaulting the teenager by touching her bottom and forcefully kissing her.
Jeremy Hill-Baker, defending, told the jury: ‘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”.’
Mr Hill-Baker then dropped the bombshell that Finnegan married Mrs Dawson, a mother of two, in Cyprus in September 1999.
Mr Hill-Baker told the jury: ‘No, you didn’t mishear me.’ He said: ‘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 ‘Father Bill’ met Mrs Dawson during his previous post
when he was a priest in Castleford and she was a parishioner.
After her previous marriage broke down, they fell in love and married. Only trusted friends and family were told.
Mr Hill-Baker said: ‘Far from being celibate, they enjoyed a full and
active sex life.’
Questioned by the judge, Finnegan said he had been
‘suspended and simply ignored’ since the sex assault allegation came to
He said his marriage would not be recognised by the Catholic
Church because he was a priest.
The court heard that the girl and her family were known to Finnegan.
Richard Walters, prosecuting, said: ‘He regularly asked her for hugs and on occasions he called her his surrogate daughter.’
He then talked about
buying her an expensive birthday present, which the prosecution said
amounted to a bribe.
The girl told her mother who reported Finnegan.
The priest told the jury the girl kissed him and he did nothing wrong.
He said: ‘She tiptoed towards me, placed her hands on my waist and
kissed me on the lips.’
The priest said he forcefully pushed the girl away and told her: ‘That’s not to happen.’
Mr Walters said: ‘Rather than tell us the truth, you would rather brand
that young girl a liar.’
Finnegan responded: ‘I have just taken the
oath. I’m not lying.’
Giving evidence, Mrs Dawson said she and her husband had never
permanently lived together but saw each other regularly, had a sexual
relationship and went on holidays together.
She said each week after he finished his church services on Sunday he would visit her, then go back to work on Tuesday.
She said on the day in question, Finnegan had phoned her and told her he had been kissed by the teenage girl.
‘He was shocked,’ she said.
The case continues.