Hundreds of Mass-goers gave a standing ovation to a priest who returned to his parish yesterday after being cleared of allegations that he fathered a child in Kenya 30 years ago.
More than 600 parishioners packed into St Cuan's Church in Ahascragh, Co Galway, to welcome Fr Kevin Reynolds back to the parish, decorated with flags and bunting.
Fr Reynolds was reinstated to his ministry yesterday after stepping aside following an RTE 'Prime Time Investigates' programme last May which claimed he had raped a girl in Kenya and fathered her child in 1982 while ministering there as a Mill Hill missionary.
RTE last week acknowledged the defamation and apologised after a paternity test proved he was not the child's father. Fr Reynolds has issued libel proceedings against the station.
The Ahascragh congregation gave him a standing ovation when he entered the church and two further standing ovations following addresses during 10am Mass.
The Bishop of Elphin, Dr Christopher Jones, said that the community was delighted to welcome Fr Reynolds back.
"We were all shocked and saddened as we watched RTE 'Prime Time Investigates' on May 23. We were shocked not only by the allegations that were made against Fr Kevin but also by the manner in which they were made,'' he said.
"Fr Kevin responded to the attack on his integrity with great strength, courage and resilience. He has carried his cross with great dignity,"
Bishop Jones stressed that the Catholic Church was committed to safeguarding children.
"I wish to remember again today those who have suffered through child sexual abuse. Occasions such as this are a disservice to the validated experiences of so many," he added.
Fr Reynolds said he now had a greater appreciation of the eighth commandment which states 'thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbour'.
"I now know that false witness is crushing, so hurtful, it is devastating. In fact, it does so much damage, damage which may never be fully repaired.
"I do not return with anger or resentment, with bitterness or any ill will in my heart, adding: "Thank God, I am free. Freed from the lies, from false allegations, baseless accusations.''
He paid tribute to all the people who had stood by him, especially his family and his parishioners.
Fr Anthony Chantry, general superior of Mill Hill Missionaries, said: "These false allegations have been a source of profound distress to Fr Kevin, his family, friends, parishioners and fellow Mill Hill missionaries. His public reinstatement to priestly matters is the beginning of a long journey of healing and reconciliation.''
Chairperson of the council, Mary Hughes, said the local community was fully behind Fr Reynolds throughout.
"On May 23 a grave injustice was done to our priest, Fr Kevin, she said, adding that "the parish was in a state of shock, bewilderment and disbelief.
"This was not the man we had known for almost six years -- who had turned our parish inside out with hard work and strong spiritual conviction and who had endeared himself to our precious elderly and young people with his warm, loving concern for them.''
He never spared himself, sometimes to the detriment of his health, she said,