A VATICAN ruling on the dismissal of the priest at the centre of the Cloyne Report has been delayed after the elderly cleric lodged a full legal defence.
The priest, who is in poor health, is vigorously contesting his dismissal from the priesthood and is set to demand a personal hearing in Rome.
Known only by the pseudonyms Fr Ronat and Fr B, he is fighting his dismissal from the priesthood, which was recommended last year by an Irish canonical court.
The court, which suspended its investigation to allow Judge Yvonne Murphy to complete the Cloyne Report into how the sprawling Cork diocese hand-led clerical child abuse allegations, recommended the priest be dismissed, or defrocked, in March 2013. He was then given 15 days to indicate an appeal.
Fr Ronat is now challenging the dismissal ruling to the Vatican's highest court, which will hear his appeal before making a recommendation to Pope Francis.
However, because the man has lodged a full legal defence under canon law, the case faces a lengthy delay. The appeal process may not now conclude until next autumn.
The cleric is not allowed to speak about the process, but a relative confirmed the case is being "fought tooth and nail."
The man stressed that Fr Ronat continues to deny the allegations and remains deeply upset by his treatment.
He has never been convicted of any criminal offence, and his family claim he has been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation.
He has also threatened legal action against a number of parties in relation to the matter.
The Irish canonical court, comprising a notary and three priest-judges, upheld the allegations against the priest and recommended his "dismissal from the clerical state".
That will proceed unless his appeal is upheld by the Apostolic Signature and Pope Francis, the two highest authorities on canon law.
In the meantime, restrictions on his ministry will remain. For more than a decade he has been banned from saying Mass or wearing priestly clothing.
One of the complainants described the canonical court ruling as "a total vindication" and welcomed the dismissal recommendation.
The probe was re-launched following the publication of Judge Murphy's report into how the Cork diocese mishandled clerical child abuse allegations.
The report found it ignored the church's protection guidelines and had, by its actions, effectively left children at risk.
The Cloyne Report was published in July 2011, but the chapter involving Fr Ronat was withheld from publication for six months for legal reasons.
Fr Ronat was the focus of 11 separate abuse complaints. Eighteen other priests were the focus of allegations in the Cloyne Report, which covered 1996 to 2009.