Shocked parishioners were told in a statement from their bishop that Father Graeme Bell, parish priest at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Saltcoats, North Ayrshire, was facing the probe after concerns came to light in recent days.
Statements were also read at neighbouring Catholic churches, St Peter in Chains in Ardrossan and St John the Evangelist in Stevenston, during services at the weekend.
It is understood the main focus of the probe had initially been funds set up for pilgrimages to Lourdes and missionary work in Guyana. It has since widened out to look at all parish finances.
One senior source in the church has said Fr Bell confessed to a problem with online gambling when confronted with the matter.
He had been due to effectively leave the church in the coming days for unrelated reasons after being given leave of absence by his bishop.
It is also understood a number of parishioners had contacted their new Bishop William Nolan’s office in the past fortnight with their concerns. At least one other notified the police.
The Diocese of Galloway’s head of finance was subsequently tasked with examining Our Lady’s parish funds ahead of the announcement on Saturday that Fr Bell was being investigated and had left the parish.
One parishioner said: “We’re utterly shocked. We knew something was up with Fr Graeme for a while but thought it was stress brought on by family issues.
“But on Saturday we were told he has now left and there’s an investigation into financial irregularities.
“The statement was in the name of Bishop Nolan but we’re told was prepared by the diocese lawyers.
“We were also told there wasn’t much could be said as the police were looking into it.”
Another said: “There are a lot of very stunned and angry people in the three parishes just now. People are in tears at mass and asking just what has been going on, to what extent and do how long. The only answers we’re being given is that the police are looking into it.
“This is money the people of the parish have given for their parish and for causes dear to their hearts.”
Bishop Nolan is currently out of the country, with the matter being dealt with by other senior clergy in the diocese.
It is understood others associated with the running of the parish financial affairs will also be asked about their understanding of how Fr Bell ran Our Lady’s in the coming days.
A statement on the website read simply: “As you will all be aware by now Father Graeme has now left our parish and Canon Poland has been appointed parish administrator.”
A specialist in church, or canon, law, Fr Bell has had a national profile on the Catholic church’s national body which deals with disputes between priests and their bishops as well as marriage annulments.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Galloway said: “Fr. Graeme Bell recently received permission from Bishop Nolan, to take a leave of absence and to resign his position as Parish Priest of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Saltcoats. This was due to begin on Monday 1st June.
“On Wednesday 27th May a report was passed to Police Scotland alleging financial irregularities in the parish. Police enquires are ongoing and Fr Bell has vacated the parish house. The Diocese of Galloway will continue to assist the police in their investigations.” Source
Two readers, who attended the funeral Mass of the late Tony Fraser in Our Lady Star of the Sea, Saltcoats last year, were absolutely horrified to hear an elderly lady’s apostate comment on the Real Presence. On hearing the announcement that at this Mass Holy Communion would be given kneeling and receiving on the tongue, she turned to her friend and said aloud: “I bet you we don’t get any wine either.” Our readers remarked later that this was a clear reflection on the state of the parish when people cannot distinguish between wine and the Precious Blood. Well, obviously the PP, Fr Graeme Bell, was otherwise engaged, other things on his mind.
Let this be yet another lesson for those allegedly concerned (about the state of the Church) Catholics who ask their priests if it’s OK to support Catholic Truth or attend SSPX Masses. It would save us all time and angst if these priests simply responded with a “no comment” right away. Might minimise the impact of any shocks to come later…
But, honestly – why can’t the diocesan Catholics see the rot? Why are they not all packing into SSPX chapels? Or, at the very least, searching out the few priests with a reputation for orthodoxy, who offer some Traditional Latin Masses at least some of the time? What’s WRONG with them? Politely, please!
To read about Fr Graeme Bell’s disgraceful announcement at one of his week day Masses that “all who contribute to and read Catholic Truth are going to Hell” dig out our November 2011 edition, Issue No. 69 – article entitled “Oh I USED to like being beside the Seaside” page 3… You will find a copy in our archive file on the Newsletter page of our website. Click here