Priest who stood down after claims of affair is appointed to new parish in Northern Ireland
A controversial Catholic priest who temporarily stood down from his duties after allegations of an affair with a parishioner has been appointed a parish priest.
Fr Ciaran Dallat will take on the new post in Loughinisland in addition to his role as a prison chaplain.
It is one of a series of appointments and retirements announced yesterday by the Bishop of Down and Connor, Noel Treanor.
Fr Dallat stepped aside from his post at St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast in March 2015 amid claims of an affair with a parishioner, who allegedly miscarried his child.
In 2016 he returned to his duties after spending a time of "reparation, spiritual guidance and counselling".
The diocese was criticised for the way in which Fr Dallat had been brought back to resume his duties without a formal announcement.
He was first spotted by parishioners taking part in a Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday in St Peter's.
The diocese then publicly confirmed his return to priestly duties and said: "Fr Dallat takes this opportunity to again sincerely apologise to everyone for the hurt and distress that his actions have caused and affirm that he is committed to serving God and the people of the Diocese of Down and Connor."
Announcing the appointments yesterday, Bishop Treanor appealed to parishioners to pray for more priestly vocations, at a time when the Catholic Church in Ireland is facing a serious shortage of priests.
There are around 400,000 Catholics in the Down and Connor Diocese, one of the biggest in Ireland, but there are currently only three priests studying in seminaries. The last priest to be ordained was Fr Tony McAleese, who was ordained last year prior to taking up an appointment as chaplain to the Mater Hospital.
Bishop Treanor, who issued a pastoral letter on vocations to the priesthood at Easter, said yesterday: "The increasing age profile and declining numbers of available priests has created their own challenges in fulfilling the church's mission and ministry, a challenge which our clergy respond to on a daily basis with generosity and faith-filled dedication." He added: "I take this opportunity to renew an appeal to pray for more vocations to the diocesan priesthood, to religious life and to the permanent diaconate so that others may join with them as 'labourers' in the harvest."
Among the other appointments which were announced yesterday was that of Fr Tim Bartlett as administrator of St Mary's in Chapel Lane Belfast, and also as Episcopal Vicar for diocesan forward planning.
This is a key role in determining the future strategy of fulfilling the Church's mission at a time of greatly reduced clergy numbers.
Fr Bartlett has extensive experience of planning and held the key post of executive director of the World Meeting of Families, which was attended by the Pope in Dublin last August, and which was generally regarded to have been very well organised.
Bishop Treanor also thanked the Mill Hill Fathers, who recently concluded their mission in St Mary's Parish after 37 years.
Other new appointments include that of the Reverend Wlodzimierz Dziduch S. Chr, as chaplain to the Polish community, residing in St Malachy's.
The Bishop expressed thanks to Fr Kyzy Sanda S. Chr, who had served the Polish community in the diocese since 2013.
It is estimated that around 2,000 Polish people live in the Down and Connor Diocese.
No clergy at school for the first time in over 186 years
The departure of a priest from a North Belfast school means it will not have a full-time serving clergyman on its teaching staff for the first time in nearly two centuries.
After 25 years at St Malachy's College, Fr Michael Spence is taking up a new appointment within the diocese as curate of St Bernadette's.
Fr Spence will continue to provide chaplaincy services in St Malachy's.
But it means that, for the first time in over 186 years, St Malachy's will not have a priest among its teaching staff when it reopens in September.