Shock as cleared priest Eugene Boland quits just days after return
A priest acquitted of child sex abuse has shocked parishioners after stepping down from his post days after returning to ministry.
Fr Eugene Boland resumed his role as parish priest of Cappagh in the Diocese of Derry on March 15 after being found not guilty of indecent assault in 2012.
There were jubilant scenes in St Mary's Chapel as more than 900 parishioners applauded Fr Boland as he made an emotional return to public life just days after being granted permission from the Vatican.
The smiling priest appeared delighted to be back with his flock.
"What I have missed most was not being able to celebrate Holy Mass or administer the sacraments," he said.
"My priestly ministry has been on hold since 2010.
"Tonight is like a new dawn, a new beginning; it's like a day of resurrection."
As he spoke applause rang out and there were cheers in the balconies.
But there was surprise at Saturday night mass when it emerged that the Donegal-born priest had now resigned.
It is thought the stress of the last few years has taken its toll.
A statement regarding Fr Boland's leave of absence said he had required counselling and that a new parish priest would be appointed in "due course".
"Over a protracted period of time, Fr Boland engaged in therapy to help him cope with what he was experiencing and to prepare him properly for a return to public ministry and interaction with the people again," it said.
Earlier this month Fr Boland returned to ministry to resume his duties, but it became "clear to Fr Boland and diocesan authorities that he is not ready".
"For that reason, Fr Boland now needs more time for help and guidance in this regard and has been granted leave of absence from ministry."
The statement acknowledged the news of Fr Boland's resignation was understandably "very confusing for many people".
"It is hoped that in dealing with this carefully and promptly, the needs of both the Parish of Cappagh and Fr Boland will be addressed appropriately."
SDLP councillor Josephine Deehan, a parishioner in Cappagh, told the Belfast Telegraph she was "shocked and saddened" by Saturday night's announcement and that Fr Boland had the support of the congregation.
"Our concern at this time is for Fr Boland," councillor Deehan said. "I want to myself, personally, wish him well.
"I haven't spoken to him but I feel it must have been a very difficult decision for him.
"It was a very courageous decision and my concern is for him and his recovery.
"He carries with him the good wishes of the parishioners and we hope in due time he will be able to resume his priestly ministry elsewhere."
In 2012 Fr Eugene Boland was cleared of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old girl in a parochial house in Galliagh, Londonderry, 20 years ago. He was acquitted of all five charges by a jury at the city's Crown Court after an eight-day trial. He had stepped aside from ministry in 2010 following the allegations made against him.