A PRIEST has been arrested by gardai investigating the theft of more than €500,000 from his religious order.
It follows a six-month investigation by a team of detectives into complaints of theft, which allegedly took place over a 13-year period.
The cash was allegedly taken from the order by making false claims for Mass stipends.
Under canon law, a priest is entitled to receive one stipend from the diocese or the order from collections made during the celebration of Mass.
Additional stipends cannot be claimed if the priest celebrates multiple Masses on one day.
However, it is alleged that the 59-year-old suspect lodged several claims on a regular basis and received payments from the authorities.
It is alleged that some of the claims were made in the names of other priests, who were unaware they were being implicated in the scheme, while others were sought using fictitious names.
It is also alleged that the money was used to fund a lavish lifestyle, which involved foreign travel, stays in luxury hotels and purchases of expensive items, including jewellery.
The suspect allegedly collected the payments by making regular checks on the post, without arousing the suspicions of other members of his order.
However, the authorities became suspicious last year and after making internal inquiries they lodged a complaint with the gardai.
A handpicked team of officers was assigned to carry out an investigation and trace the payments being made on a regular basis. The investigation culminated in the arrest of the priest on Wednesday morning.
He was taken to Mountjoy garda station on the northside of Dublin, where he was questioned under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act and held throughout the day.
The priest was eventually released without charge on Wednesday night.
Further inquiries are now being carried out and a file will then be prepared by gardai for the Director of Public Prosecutions, who will determine if criminal charges should be brought against the priest.
Gardai confirmed last night that none of the money had yet been recovered, but said their investigation had not been completed.
It is understood that one of the options under consideration is to seek a court order to freeze any accounts held by the suspect in financial institutions.
Gardai said there was no suggestion that any of the other priests named in the claims was involved in the alleged scam and they were satisfied that only one man was behind the scheme.