July 2017:  Desmond Lynagh currently attends a Catholic church in the centre of Falkirk town daily, St Francis Xavier RC church

July 1996

Former priest Desmond Lynagh jailed for three years 


In July 1996, former priest Desmond Lynagh was jailed for three years at the High Court in Edinburgh after admitting shameless and indecent conduct towards two youths while he was a teacher.

The Irish-born priest was jailed for three years at the High Court in Edinburgh in 1996 for abusing trainee priests aged 15 and 17 while he was a teacher at Blairs College, Aberdeenshire (pic above). 

He first struck in 1974 and continued the abuse for 18 months. 

Lynagh was eventually arrested in 1994 when one of his victims went to the police fearing the priest was working with children again in Edinburgh. 

At the time of Lynagh’s conviction, the Church was accused of a cover- up over an alleged payment of £42,000 to one of the boys. 

After making the compensation payment, church leaders were accused of not alerting the police.


Lynagh sat in the dock with his head bowed as the judge told him: “These are matters of great indecency persisted in over a long period of time when you were in a position of high trust. I think you have to atone to the public for what you did.”

Mr Andrew Lamb, Advocate-depute, told the court the first victim had regarded Lynagh as a “father figure” at the college in whom he could confide.

However, in June 1974, when the victim was 15, he got up through the night feeling ill. When he returned to his dormitory cubicle, Lynagh was there. When he complained of stomach pains the priest began massaging him before fondling him and masturbating him.

Mr Lamb said it was the victim’s first sexual experience and it left him feeling confused.

Over the next 18 months, Lynagh regularly approached the youth and committed a series of indecent acts.

The victim became increasingly confused and confided in spiritual advisers. He was provided with support but because the information had been disclosed during confession, Lynagh was not confronted.

When the youth later approached another priest, the matter was brought to the attention of the master of discipline at the college. Lynagh was confronted, and arrangements were made for him to leave Blairs.

The incident involving the second youth took place sometime between August 1975 and July 31, 1976, when Lynagh put his hand under the 17-year-old’s bedclothes before he was warded off. Mr Lamb told the court the first victim was employed in social work after leaving Blairs.

“It appears that he was signficantly affected by what had occurred. He apparently was ultimately unable to cope with day to day life and, as a consequence of that, he sought medical advice and received counselling for a period of three years.”

In 1990, he approached the Most Reverend Keith O’Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, with his concern over what had happened, and arrangements were made for Lynagh to be transferred to administrative duties.

At that time, he was a parish priest in Denny, Stirlingshire. Lynagh also undertook treatment for alcoholism and attended a clinic for sex offenders.

The first victim was still concerned, mistakenly, that Lynagh was involved with children and in 1994 he went to the police in Edinburgh.

Miss Leeona Dorrian QC, defence counsel, told the court that Lynagh accepted responsibility for the offences and was full of remorse. He had been an only son and it was taken as read within his family that he would become a priest.

He was discouraged from contact with girls and, when he went into a seminary at 17, had no sexual experience. He was later sent to Blairs College as a teacher, against his wishes, since he felt ill-equipped to teach.

He began drinking heavily during his time at the college and would sit in his room at night, steadily drinking spirits.

After the allegations resurfaced in 1990, he was ordered to seek treatment and to sign a contract which restricted him to administrative duties which meant he could not come into contact with young people.

Miss Dorrian stressed it was made clear to the first victim, who had gone to the archbishop, that he was free to take whatever action he wished, but at that stage he did not wish to go to the prosecuting authorities.