Priest cleared over allegation of child abuse
PSNI probe exonerates cleric but he wasn't told of accuser's identity for eight months
A parish priest in Louth who had to stand aside from ministry 15 months ago following an allegation of child abuse has been totally cleared after an investigation by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)
Fr Oliver Brennan, 66, a noted academic and theologian, has revealed that he was not told the identity of the person who had made the false allegation against him until eight months after he was forced to stand aside from parish duties.
Fr Brennan first heard of the allegation, which dated back over 30 years, shortly before the Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh Gerard Clifford arrived in Blackrock parish, Co Louth, to announce that the priest was standing aside from ministry pending an investigation.
"It came out of the blue. I got a phone call on that Saturday morning from the bishop to say that he was coming to see me."
Bishop Clifford made the announcement at mass on August 14, 2010. When he arrived at mass many parishioners thought he was going to address the congregation about a row which had been brewing for some weeks in Blackrock parish where there was intense anger that Fr Brennan was to be assigned to another parish.
Parishioners in Blackrock had threatened to refuse to help with payment of more than €1m owed by the parish when it was announced that Fr Brennan was to be moved.
Fr Brennan had also made it clear to the Archbishop of Armagh, Cardinal Brady, that he did not want to be transferred.
But instead of addressing that issue, Bishop Clifford told the shocked congregation of the allegation and that Fr Brennan had agreed to stand aside pending the outcome of an investigation.
He said "the allegation has been reported to the civil authorities, and the diocese and the priest will fully co-operate with any investigation".
He added: "Whilst this process is ongoing the priest is entitled to the benefit of a presumption of innocence."
Fr Brennan said at the time that he was "absolutely innocent".
But it was a full eight months later in April of this year before the PSNI told him the name of the person who was making an allegation against him.
"It was a real nightmare. I knew a false allegation had been made because I knew I was innocent but you don't know who is making the allegation," Fr Brennan told the Sunday Independent.
At the time the bishop informed Fr Brennan's parishioners there was disbelief and anger. A group of parishioners confronted Bishop Clifford in the sacristy. Some walked out.
On Friday, in a statement issued through his legal team, Fr Brennan said that "the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland contacted my solicitor to confirm that there is no substance or credibility to the allegations and that I have no case to answer. Therefore there will be no prosecution of any sort against me."
He continued: "I have always refuted these false and groundless allegations. Clear in the knowledge that there was no substance to the allegations, I was determined to maintain my good name and reputation."
He added: "I felt very hurt personally as well as for my family, friends and parishioners when the allegations were made."
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Fr Brennan said: "I knew I would be cleared of any wrongdoing but it is still a massive relief. Anyone who knows me, knew I was innocent and that it was groundless.
"It's up to my bishop, Cardinal Brady, whether I will stay in Blackrock or go someplace else. It would be my wish to stay in Blackrock, but I will agree to accept any appointment that I am given."
He said he was not happy with the way allegations against priests are handled by the church.
"The bishop did follow procedures that the church has signed up to but I am not satisfied with the way priests are treated when an allegation is made against them.
"I would be happy if priests were treated the same as teachers or doctors or social workers.
"When an allegation is made they step aside but there is no public announcement about it. When an allegation is made against a teacher, the headmaster does not call a gathering of all the pupils and teachers and announces it publicly as a bishop does with a priest.
"I have always believed that the welfare of the child is paramount and I cannot imagine anyone harming a child. It is the worst crime imaginable. But I do think that the church has overreacted to the inaction of the past," he said.