A Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting a teenager is secretly married, a court was told.
William Finnegan, who is standing trial at Bradford Crown Court, yesterday revealed to the jury – and at the same time to his diocese – that despite having taken a vow of celibacy, he got married more than a decade ago and kept it a secret from both the Catholic Church and his parishioners.
Finnegan, also known as ‘Father Bill’, was parish priest at St Clare’s RC Church in Fagley when the alleged assault happened last Easter.
Opening the case for the defence, Finnegan’s barrister Jeremy Hill-Baker said to the jury that when they heard the case involved a sexual allegation against a priest, that maybe “a lightbulb lit somewhere and you thought, ‘This is something I read about, this is something that occurs’”.
He 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 Finnegan met Mrs Dawson, a mother-of-two, when he was a priest in Castleford and she was one of his parishioners. After her previous marriage broke down, they fell in love and travelled to Cyprus to wed in a civil ceremony and only disclosed their marriage to close friends and family.
Mr Hill-Baker said: “Far from being celibate, they enjoyed a full and active sex life.”
Finnegan swore an oath on the Bible before beginning his evidence.
The Recorder of Bradford, Judge Roger Thomas QC, said: “Your public announcement of this today is news to everyone?”
Finnegan said: “It is, and I will be dealt with.”
Judge Thomas asked him if he had been suspended since the allegation of sexual assault arose.
Finnegan said: “I have been suspended and simply ignored.”
He said his marriage would not be recognised by the Catholic Church because he was a priest.
Judge Thomas said: “Did you think it would compromise your position as a priest, to carry out communion and so on and so forth, or wasn’t that an issue?”
Finnegan said: “It wasn’t an issue.”
Finnegan, 59, of Acacia Close, Castleford, denies sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl on Easter Sunday last year by touching her bottom and forcefully kissing her.
He told the jury it was the girl who had kissed him.
He said: “She tiptoed towards me, placed her hands on my waist and kissed me on the lips.”
Finnegan said he pushed the girl away and Mr Hill-Baker asked if he had then said anything to her.
He said: “I said that’s not to happen. I’m afraid I used quite a lot of force.”
Cross-examining him, prosecution barrister Richard Walters said: “Rather than tell us the truth, you would rather brand that young girl as a liar.”
Finnegan said: “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 service 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 trial continues.