Priest Welcomed Back to Work after Suffering False Allegations

By Fintan Deere
The Universe Newsroom [Ireland]
July 8, 2006

A West of Ireland parish priest, Canon Niall Ahern, who has been allowed to return to ministry after an investigation found no basis for allegations of impropriety, has received an enthusiastic welcome back to his parish.

Canon Ahern was removed from his parish at St Patrick's Church, Strandhill, Sligo last February because of a complaint against him going back to the late 1970s.

Two months ago, Ireland's director of pubic prosecutions, James Hamilton, said there were no grounds for prosecution and this month, Bishop Christopher Jones of Elphin announced that a canonical investigation had also exonerated Canon Ahern.

"No taint or suspicion attaches in any way to the priest," Bishop Jones stressed.

"He enjoys the complete confidence of the bishop as he reaffirms him in full and ongoing ministry in the diocese."

Canon Ahern was welcomed enthusiastically when he walked on to the altar to celebrate 12.30 pm in St. Patrick's Church. After Mass, he was presented with a painting on behalf of parishioners. Canon Ahern said their prayer and contact had been of enormous support.

"Your sustained remembrance helped me through this trial which has now found closure and I am gradually resuming normal life and ministry again," he said.

Canon Ahern said he was conscious he was neither the first nor the last person to suffer an untrue allegation.

"Nonetheless, these days, such an accusation can force a priest to abandon his normal life until he can positively prove his innocence," he said.

"We should not feel bitter about this because our church was in the past too slow to take action on such matters.

"A part of the price we pay for this is that priests have to take the approach that I in conscience took and which is the recent practice of the church in Ireland," he said.


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