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Police investigate two Northern Ireland Catholic priests over child abuse

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Two Catholic priests in the Diocese of Down and Connor are currently under investigation for child abuse.

Father Paul Symonds, a curate in the parish of Kirkinriola in Ballymena, and a priest from Bangor have been suspended while the PSNI probe the allegations.

The development follows the publication of the Murphy report in Dublin this week which found that hundreds of cases of abuse were covered up by the archdiocese and other Church and state authorities in the Republic.

The revelation of cases being probed in Down and Connor will increase the pressure for a full inquiry into clerical abuse north of the border.

Speaking yesterday, Dr Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, described the findings of the Murphy report as horrific.

“The clergy of this country are ashamed,” he said.

Dr Treanor also said he was confident his diocese had rid itself of all abusing priests.

“The diocese has got rid of all abusing priests that we have been told of, this I can assure you wholeheartedly and totally. We have taken the measures necessary to deal with any complaints we have received. They have been passed on and the staff of our child safeguarding office have co-operated proactively with the statutory authorities, of that there can be no doubt.

“There are two facing allegations. They are diocesan priests — I would prefer not to mention them by name, those names are in the public realm. When the two persons referred to ceased to exercise their priestly ministry they were the subject of communications by the diocese to the parishes in which they worked. Their names were then put into the public realm.”

Bishop Treanor said he was reluctant to identify either of the priests because of a “thorough and profound respect for the legal procedures” and a “respect for the innocence of a person until that person is proven guilty”.

“There are two facing proceedings and they have ceased to exercise their priestly ministry. There are no other people facing allegations,” he added.

Earlier this week the Belfast Telegraph reported that Fr Symonds — who was previously awarded an OBE for his community work — had been asked to leave his Co Antrim parish after the allegations dating back to the 1970s had come to light.

Last Sunday Bishop Treanor told the parishioners: “Fr Symonds, of course, continues to enjoy the natural right of every person to the presumption of innocence.

“In accordance with the diocesan policy of safeguarding, all concerned are offered appropriate support.

“It would be inappropriate to make any further comment at this time in view of the ongoing police investigation.”

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