A PRIEST who broke his vow of celibacy to marry in secret was yesterday warned he may go to jail for sexually assaulting a teenage girl.
William Finnegan, 59, known to his parishioners as Father Bill, denied forcefully kissing the 17-year-old and touching her bottom, but was found guilty by jurors at Bradford Crown Court.
The Diocese of Leeds has now banned him from the priesthood for life for his “shocking” double breaches of trust.
During his trial, Finnegan, who was parish priest at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Fagley, Bradford, at the time of the assault – revealed to the court and to the diocese that he secretly married Beverley Dawson in 1999 in Cyprus after meeting her at his former parish in Castleford.
The revelation came after Ms Dawson was called by the court to give evidence.
She said she and her husband had never permanently lived together but saw each other regularly, had a sexual relationship and went on holidays together. Each week after he finished church services on Sunday he would visit her, then go back to work on Tuesday, she said.
Finnegan, of Acacia Close, Castleford, who will now have to register as a sex offender, denied forcing himself upon the teenager last Easter. After swearing an oath on the Bible, he told the court she had kissed him. He had been suspended by the Catholic Church following the incident.
It took the jury almost a day of deliberating before returning a verdict of guilty, prompting gasps and cries from Finnegan’s supporters in the public gallery.
Recorder of Bradford Judge Roger Thomas QC told Finnegan “there’s a lot of thought to be given” about the sentence he faces, which could include an immediate prison term.
Judge Thomas said: “This case, albeit sexual assault of the least type, does have to it factors of another type.
“What the ultimate sentence will be, I have an entirely open mind about but that ranges from immediate imprisonment to other arrangements of a community nature.”
Finnegan will be sentenced following reports on April 11.
The Diocese of Leeds said it was “shocked” at his secret marriage and ashamed of his conduct. It stressed that he has stepped down from his role and will never again be allowed to be a priest.
In a written statement, diocesan administrator Monsignor John Wilson 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. I realise that this has been a very difficult and distressing time for you and your family. My thoughts and prayers are with you and my door is open to you.”
The Monsignor added: “It emerged during the trial that William Finnegan, contrary to the discipline of the Catholic Church, had married in a civil ceremony in Cyprus in 1999.
“This news was as shocking to the officials of the diocese as it was to all those present in court and is another example of the gross breaches of trust committed by William Finnegan.”
Mgr Wilson said he will make a special visit this weekend to St Clare’s Parish, where Finnegan served, as “an expression of the diocese’s commitment to support and care for all those involved”
Mgr Wilson has also urged anyone with concerns to contact the diocesan safeguarding co-ordinator.