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British priest surprises court with secret marriage

LONDON — A jury in northern England got a surprise at the trial of a Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl: The cleric has been secretly married for more than a decade.

Defense lawyer Jeremy Hill-Baker said jurors at Bradford Crown Court could be forgiven if they thought that Father William Finnegan’s vow of celibacy had left him lonely, sad, and sexually frustrated. But Hill-Baker said that was not the case.

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Hill-Baker said jurors would hear evidence from the 59-year-old Finnegan and his wife, Beverley Dawson, that the pair had been ‘‘deeply in love.’’

‘‘No, you didn’t mishear me. His wife,’’ Hill-Baker said, explaining that the couple wed secretly in 1999.

Dawson told the court that Finnegan would visit her after finishing church services each Sunday, then go back to work on Tuesday.

Finnegan denied forcefully kissing and touching the bottom of a 17-year-old girl, but the jury found him guilty of sexual assault on Friday.

The charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Judge Roger Thomas told Finnegan he would give ‘‘a lot of thought’’ about the sentence he would get on April 11.

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