Belfast Telegraph

Hell hath no fury like a preacher's 'lover' scorned

By Gail Walker

The accusations against Fr Ciaran Dallat made by "Linda", who claims he carried on an affair with her for two years, make for interesting reading. A £3,700 Nordic cruise, expensive meals out in glitzy Belfast eateries, designer clothes (for him, that is), luxury domestic fixtures and fittings for his apartment.

Interesting, but hardly earth-shattering, sensational, or betokening excesses worthy of the Roman Empire.

More, in fact, the routine courting rituals of two middle-aged people, one of whom has a bit of spare cash accumulated, seeking the thrills and spills of teenage infatuation and, perhaps, one seeking to push the relationship along the rails a little faster than the other one.

What makes it front page news in the Fair Province, of course, is the simple fact that Ciaran Dallat is a Catholic priest, working in St Peter's in Belfast, who has now, it appears, gone in to hiding to avoid the predictable scandal, from which, of course, there will be no escape.

"Linda", meanwhile, who remains anonymous to you and me, but is known to the Bishop of Down and Connor, has already done for Fr Dallat's aspirations for advancement in the priesthood, as well as making his pastoral responsibilities impossible to fulfill.

Bearing in mind that had Fr Dallat been an accountant, a doctor, or a deep sea fisherman, the affair between two consenting adults would never have been brought to notice - its simple failure would be punishment enough for most of us - but "Linda" seems clearly driven by a desire for revenge on a man she now considers a hypocrite, deceiver and philanderer.

She wants the priest exposed, hoofed forthwith out of the parish and the cash she spent on him in pursuit of love repaid so she can donate it to charity.

Well, yes indeed. If only it were possible to bring public moral sanction against those implicated in our errors of the heart! The streets would be full of former amours wearing sackcloth and ashes, doing community service, cleaning the lavatories in hostels, and sporting a sandwich board with a scarlet letter H round their shoulders.

Happily, that isn't part of the package. Whatever about Fr Dallat's adherence or otherwise to his vows of celibacy, there is no doubt that it is his vocation which has left him at the mercy of the public Press.

But do we still really expect Catholic clergy to be above moral reproach? If we do, not only does that view run in the face of the revelations of recent decades, but it is also one not shared by the Catholic hierarchy.

One can imagine the Bishop at his desk on the Somerton Road, with his head slumped in his hands as yet another curate jumps the wall.

At least, though, Fr Dallat's misdemeanour does not involve young boys or girls in his care, but rather a worldly-wise businesswoman in her forties who knew full well the character of the chap with whom she willingly embarked on an affair.

"Linda's" claims of having been "groomed" by Fr Dallat are rather absurd and do indicate someone attempting to gild the lily of her seduction. Nordic cruises, dapper strides and fancy furnishings for his love-nest, seem the trappings of the well-to-do professional lady about town.

Fair play to her for making the most of her chances with the cleric, but she can hardly expect the Church to do her work for her in humiliating him further.

As regards seeking cash compensation, or what you might call "her money back", that is patently ridiculous.

If that rule extended to the rest of us, we'd all either be instantly bankrupted, or making payments to exes longer than it takes students to pay off their loans.

Of course, "Linda" is hurt and, for that, both Fr Dallat and his Church have penances to make, but I suspect those will be made within the strictures of the Church. "Linda" will not be able to expect the Church to exact retribution on her behalf against Fr Dallat, or to write her a cheque.

Why? Well, because the Church's rules apply to all equally and, in its eyes, she has sinned as much as Fr Dallat - sex outside marriage for starters - and though he has an extra layer of opprobrium coming his way, the basic sin is the same for both.

In our secular world, yes, there will be a few salacious newspaper columns and Fr Dallat will feel the brunt of shame and disgrace, but as the saying goes, worse things happen at sea.

We are all human, in our virtues as in our vices. But we are also all human in our ordinary everyday mistakes and the pain we inflict on ourselves and others.

Most times, we just have to suffer those and get on with it. Let this be yet another warning to Catholic gentlemen of the cloth. But let it also be a warning to the Lindas of this world.

The old truths. Don't believe a word you're told and keep your hand clamped around your purse.

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