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Bishop facing backlash over handling of Belfast priest accused of getting parishioner pregnant

By Deborah McAleese

Published 24/03/2015

Bishop Noel Treanor
Bishop Noel Treanor
Fr Ciaran Dallat. Photo by Brian O'Neill

Catholic Bishop Noel Treanor has come under pressure from clergy members over his handling of an alleged sexual relationship between a priest and a parishioner.

West Belfast priest Fr Ciaran Dallat is believed to have left his parochial house to stay with a friend along the north coast as the storm over his alleged affair with a woman, who became pregnant and then miscarried his child, failed to dissipate.

While parishioners have organised a rally of support for Fr Dallat to take place tonight outside St Peter's Cathedral, where he is still officially an assistant priest, several members of the clergy have said they believe he should not be allowed to return to ministry.

They have also criticised Bishop Treanor for not advising Fr Dallat to stand aside pending an investigation when he first became aware of the claims more than a fortnight ago.

The Catholic Church last night said that "Bishop Noel Treanor and the Diocese of Down and Connor assure all parishioners and the public at large that all concerns and allegations that are raised in a substantiated manner are taken seriously."

And Passionist priest Fr Brian D'Arcy, one of Ireland's best known clerics, said he was disappointed the alleged relationship had become a "source of scandal".

"They are both adults. It should be dealt with in a mature and helpful way that can allow both of them to continue with their lives. It should not be the source of such scandal to anybody that people have to live their lives in some sort of shadow," said Fr D'Arcy.

Fr Dallat has been accused by a 49-year-old businesswoman. known only as 'Linda', of having an affair with her. She claimed she miscarried his child in July 2013 after a five-week pregnancy.

The north Belfast woman also said she had showered him with £20,000 worth of gifts throughout their relationship which allegedly began in September 2012 and lasted until April 2014.

According to 'Linda' she told Bishop Treanor about the allegations around two weeks ago and asked for Fr Dallat to be moved out of Belfast.

The Catholic Church last night refused to answer any questions from the Belfast Telegraph for clarification about Fr Dallat's position within St Peter's Cathedral and if he is expected to return.

Church officials also refused to comment on claims that Bishop Treanor has been made aware of another Belfast priest who has allegedly had three intimate relationships with his parishioners.

A spokesman for the Diocese said that the Diocese "does not consider it to be appropriate professional practice to respond to third party commentary."

He added: "As stated in an earlier press release, conscious of the welfare of all parties concerned, it is not appropriate for the Diocese to comment further."

One priest serving in the Diocese of Down and Connor criticised Bishop Treanor, on the online blog Thinking Catholicism, for failing to "handle this matter more effectively when he had two weeks to do so".

"The thing to do was to ask Father Dallat to step aside temporarily while an investigation took place. This would have made the woman involved feel that her suffering and her complaint were being taken seriously by the Diocese. Now the situation is a whole mess," he wrote on an online blog.

Another wrote on the Thinking Catholicism site, which is hosted by former priest Pat Buckley, an outspoken critic of the Church: "Bishop Treanor has let a lot of people down, including "Linda" and her family, the people of the Cathedral Parish, and also Fr Dallat who ... should have been suspended, pending a full investigation. Bishop Noel showed very poor judgment, and further suffering for many has been the end result of that. I hope he acts differently in future cases; I for one will be watching closely."

In relation to the alleged affair, one priest said that Fr Dallat's behaviour was "inexcusable".

"He must answer for those actions both before his Bishop, in this life, and his God, in the next."

The revelations have reopened the wider debate about celibacy and the priesthood. One priest wrote on the blog: "To put it bluntly celibacy is not working for the majority of priests ... Fewer and fewer men are seeing priesthood as a legitimate option, in particular because of celibacy ... Things simply cannot go on as they are, either in Down & Connor or beyond."

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