Father Noel Barry, press secretary to Cardinal Thomas Winning, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, and Annie Clinton, an education adviser with Glasgow City Council, claimed that an article in The Scottish Sun in September 1996 implied they were involved in a long-term, secret, sexual relationship.
Each sued for damages of pounds 200,000 and after a trial lasting 10 days at Edinburgh's Court of Session, a judge awarded the pair a substantial part of it. Fr Barry, 42, of Milngavie, Strathclyde, won pounds 45,000 and Ms Clinton, 51, of Lanarkshire, won pounds 120,000. The jury took almost four hours to reach a unanimous verdict that the pair had been defamed.
There was no reaction from Fr Barry or Ms Clinton, who were sitting next to each other in the court, but when the jury left Ms Clinton hugged her lawyer. The pair admitted spending nights under the same roof at Ms Clinton's house, but denied they ever had a sexual relationship.
It had taken the bombing of Iraq to knock the "priest story" off the front pages in Scotland yesterday after a former nun Caroline Brown, 38, told the court that she lost her virginity to Fr Barry in a Preston hotel room in 1985.
Mrs Brown, who now has two children, told the court that Fr Barry had lied under oath. She said they had been in love and she thought they would marry, but their relationship petered out after he failed to leave the priesthood. In the witness box at the beginning of the trial, Fr Barry had spoken of the night in the Crest Hotel, but denied that he broke his vow of celibacy although he was "tempted".
However, he suggested to the jury there were times when he would have liked sexual intimacy. "Right now, I suppose I can honestly say, hand on heart, that in an ideal world, if such exists, for me as a human being I would want to be married, but that is a sacrifice I have chosen to make as a priest," he said.
The Sun, and good many other observers of the case, thought it had a match-winning witness in Mrs Brown. Bruce Waddell, editor of The Scottish Sun, said that after the "very private and very painful" evidence given by Mrs Brown, he was "extremely disappointed" at the verdict for Father Barry. The publishers are considering an appeal.
Cardinal Winning, the Archbishop of Glasgow, said that the church had not paid anything to the costs incurred by his press secretary in fighting the case and refused to be drawn into debate on the case. "To prolong the personal hurt of those whose lives have been affected by this incident is pointless," he said.
Mrs Brown told the court on Thursday that the Cardinal had been unsympathetic when she approached him about the liaison with Fr Barry. He had asked her if she had an tape recordings. "I became quite upset," she said. "I said `I don't think you realise how difficult this is for me to come here'. [The cardinal] said `What do you want, tears'?"Reuse content