A Catholic priest from Lancaster has been sentenced to 12 months in jail for sexually abusing a young man.
Stephen Shield, 55, former priest at Lancaster Cathedral, was convicted of three counts of indecent assault upon the man who had hopes of a future in the priesthood.
More than 240 parishioners signed a petition in support of Shield, which was handed to the court by Shield’s barrister, Paul Humphries.
Shield continues to deny the sex attacks but Judge Anthony Russell QC, sentencing, said he had targeted the young man due to his vulnerability, adding that the man felt his complaints would not be taken seriously because of Shield’s status as a priest.
Preston Crown Court heard how the sex assaults, committed in the 1980s and 90s had affected the man psychologically and spiritually.
Following the attacks the man found it difficult to celebrate the Eucharist in the knowledge he would then be connected to his abuser through Christ.
Shield, however, went on to celebrate mass just hours after he assaulted the man in a bedroom in the presbytery at English Martyrs church in Preston. after giving him drink, as well as at a dinner party attended by local priests.
Around two thirds of the Sunday congregation at Lancaster Cathedral testified to Shield’s good character, signing a petition stating he was “an excellent priest” who had supported many of the parishioners through their personal triumphs and tragedies.
That petition was compiled without Shield’s knowledge as he was removed from his post at Lancaster Cathedral when the charges against him emerged.
A decision about Shield’s future in the clergy has yet to be made but the court heard he may be stripped of his status as a priest.
However it is understood that decision will be made in Rome.
A statement from the catholic Diocese of Lancaster said: “‘It is with profound sadness and deepest regret that the priests and people of the Diocese of Lancaster acknowledge the sentencing, today, of Canon Stephen Shield – a priest of this Diocese.”
The Bishop of Lancaster, Rt Rev Michael Campbell OSA added: “Please God, with the passing of time - together with a purified and strengthened resolve by all - healing and reconciliation will be restored to those affected by this tragic episode in our local Church of Lancaster.
“Those directly involved in this case should know of my heartfelt prayer for each of them and those affected by this heart-breaking affair.”