A PRIEST at the centre of abuse allegations has refused to leave his parochial house despite being suspended from duty and ordered to find new accommodation.
The elderly cleric stepped down from his duties in the Diocese of Kilmore last September.
But despite being told by Bishop Leo O'Reilly to move to alternative accommodation, he has refused to do so.
The diocese covers Cavan and parts of Leitrim, Sligo, Meath and Fermanagh and was recently praised for having among the best child protection measures in the country.
In a statement yesterday, Bishop O'Reilly said that he informed gardai and the HSE of the allegation in September, and that anyone with concerns about abuse should contact the child protection office in the diocese or the authorities.
He added that the priest was the subject of a criminal investigation, which meant he could not be named. The parish in which he serves is not being identified.
"I should point out that these are the subject of both criminal investigation and legal proceedings and I am in a position to comment only in a general way on what is a complex individual case," he said.
"In September when child safeguarding complaints concerning this priest came to my attention, I immediately informed the civil authorities.
"I spoke to the priest, who voluntarily agreed to stand aside from sacred ministry. I informed the parish council that complaints had been received and I addressed local Masses so as to directly and personally inform parishioners.
"As Bishop of Kilmore I am very much aware of my leadership responsibility to safeguard children in the diocese, and I am absolutely determined to discharge those responsibilities fully."
The controversy has divided the local community, with some members of the church withdrawing from activities while the priest remains in the parochial house.
Fr Sean McDonagh of the Association of Catholic Priests said he welcomed the "courageous leadership" from the bishop, but that the association was "very much opposed" to the public being told at Mass that the priest had been stepped down.
"We have no special pleading that the priest be treated in a particular way," he said. "The association is very much opposed to the public nature in which priests are being stepped down. The Mass is a place to listen to the word of God, and it's a mis-use of Mass.
"We are beginning to have a feeling that once these accusations are made you have to prove yourself innocent."