Wednesday 16 October 2019

Priest steps down to allow investigation


THE PARISH PRIEST at the centre of a child sex abuse allegation told his congregation on Saturday night that the accusation against him is completely unfounded, but that he is obliged to step aside from duties until the necessary investigation is complete.

Fr John Sweetman has been on leave from his post in Riverchapel for the past two week, but returned to the North Wexford seaside village for last Saturday's evening Mass to explain to parishioners the reason for his absence, and to pledge to cooperate one hundred per cent with the inquiry.

The complaint against him has been made by a woman from the Wexford area and it refers to an alleged offence in the 1980s, when Fr Sweetman was aged in his twenties.

A spokesman for the Gardaí in Wexford confirmed that a complaint has been made and that they are investigating it. He also confirmed that the complaint is ' historical' and relates to the Wexford division.

Last weekend's Masses in Riverchapel were celebrated by Monsignor Denis Lennon, parish priest in Clonard and the Episcopal Vicar for Clergy. He explained to the Saturday night congregation that Fr Sweetman had a statement to make, and then himself read out a written statement from the Diocese at Sunday morning's Masses, which Fr Sweetman did not attend.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Ferns this week confirmed that all necessary procedures are being followed in light of the complaint received.

'When the diocese receives a concern about a priest that relates to safeguarding children, it immediately notifies the Gardai, the HSE and the National Office and recommendations received are followed,' he said yesterday (Monday).

'A complaint has been received against a priest. The priest has rejected the complaint as wholly untrue and he has sought leave to co-operate with the neces

sary inquiries,' said the spokesman.

Fr Jim Butler, parish priest of nearby Ballygarrett, has been appointed administrator of the Riverchapel parish in Fr Sweetman's absence.

Me a n w h i l e , the local community remains stunned by news of the allegation.

'Everyone in the area is absolutely shell-shocked at this revelation. It's devastating' one parishioner in Riverchapel said yesterday.

He said that people had wondered where Fr Sweetman was when he was absent from Riverchapel's recent First Holy Communion ceremonies, but no-one could have imagined the reason until he told them himself at Mass a week later. 'No-one knew anything about this until Saturday evening. The First Holy Communion was the week before and he wasn't at that, which noone could understand because he had put a lot of work it,' said the parish-

into ioner.

'Everyone thought that maybe a family member had been ill or something like that,' he said. 'On Saturday he came to the vigil Mass and told us what was happening. He said the allegation is totally untrue and unfounded. It took a lot of courage to come back and do that.'

The parishioner said that Fr Sweetman is very popular in Riverchapel and 'gets on very well with everyone young and old' and that ' there's not a person here who'd have a bad

word to say about him.'