A SENIOR Catholic cleric who is on sick leave after an investigation was launched into his private life has insisted: "I've never molested any children."
Father Hugh Kennedy (55) confirmed he had temporarily stood aside as administrator of St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast after talks with the Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor.
After his diocesan office made clear that boys belonging to the Cathedral's Schola Cantorum choir were not involved in the inquiries, Fr Kennedy claimed he was going through a personal crisis.
In a statement last night, he declared: "I can categorically state I have never violated or molested a child placed in my trust, either in a private or priestly capacity.
"In order to reassure the parents of the children associated with Schola Cantorum, I am personally willing to engage immediately with as many of them as possible, to satisfy them of my bona fides.
"I am passing through a personal crisis with which I have to deal. I request space in which to do this. I repeat my readiness to cooperate with Church and State authorities. I ask for people of goodwill to pray for me in my hour of crisis."
A spokesperson for the PSNI said: "We do not comment on individual cases, however we can confirm a police investigation is under way."
Fr Kennedy's decision to stop his work at the cathedral followed a meeting with Bishop Treanor on July 20.
In an earlier statement, he said: "Bishop Treanor requested me to 'stand aside' from all my priestly/cathedral duties on foot of 'information' he had received. This information was not shared with me. Following from this, I have ceased working as a priest at the cathedral.
"I have no hesitation in co-operating with Church/State authorities in light of this development."
Fr Kennedy was ordained a priest in 1981 when he was studying at the Irish College in Rome. He was appointed administrator at St Peter's in 2006.
A diocesan Down and Connor statement said "information" was received in mid-July citing Fr Kennedy. It was forwarded to the police and social services.
Fr Kennedy has been on sick leave since early July - before the information was made known to the diocese.