A CATHOLIC priest who quit the Church for "private reasons" has been replaced at Masses by his cousin.
Ian Kennedy stunned the tiny congregation at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Ballinafad, Co Sligo, last week when he announced he was leaving the clergy.
Now his cousin, Father Alan Conway, a curate in Boyle, Co Roscommon, has been drafted in to the small Sligo hamlet to say weekend Masses.
"He was here last Sunday and made no mention of Father Ian or why he decided to leave his ministry," said one parishioner yesterday.
Fr Conway sits on the Elphin Diocese Vocations Committee, responsible for recruiting men to the priesthood.
Asked about Mr Kennedy's decision to leave the clergy, Fr Conway declined to comment.
Family friends say Mr Kennedy wants to "start a new life" outside the Church. He was staying in the past few days at a house in Ballinacarrow, around 15km from Ballinfad.
"He won't go public on his reasons for leaving the priesthood because he believes it is an entirely private matter," said one Church insider yesterday.
"He leaves the Church with full support of both his congregation and the priests of the diocese. He wants to get on with a new life and perhaps meet someone and get married."
That view was echoed by one elderly parishioner in Ballinafad yesterday.
"He is welcome back here anytime. If he does meet someone and get married, we'd hope he would get married here in our chapel," she said.
"It's just a pity priests can't marry. If they could, we might still have an excellent parish priest."