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Show of support for priest over affair claims - The Irish News
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Show of support for priest over affair claims

Suzanne McGonagle s.mcgonagle@irishnews.com

A RALLY was held in west Belfast last night in support of a priest facing claims he broke his vow of celibacy by having a two-year affair with a businesswoman.

Fr Ciaran Dallat (52) has not been seen at St Peter's Cathedral, where he is an assistant priest, since the claims were made last week.

Around 60 people gathered at the cathedral off the Falls Road to show their backing for the cleric.

Last night's rally came a week after The Irish News first reported claims by a 49-year-old business-woman that she had a relation-ship with Fr Dallat.

The woman claimed the two-year relationship began in Belfast in 2012 after the pair went on a group pilgrimage.

She said he allowed her to spend more than £20,000, including on the decoration of his rooms and foreign holidays.

The woman also alleged she miscarried his child and said the priest told her he would leave the Church for her.

Fr Dallat has not been seen by parishioners since the allegations emerged last week. He is thought to be staying with friends on the north coast.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Down and Connor last night declined to comment on Fr Dallat's whereabouts and whether he was continuing in active ministry.

The diocese had initially said it was "a private matter between two persons who are adults" after the claims from the woman first emerged.

In a further statement issued the following day, the diocese said it was taking the allegations "seriously".

Last night, however, it said it had nothing further to add.

Parishioners who gathered outside the cathedral last night said Fr Dallat was "very well respected" and they were united in their support for him.

One of the rally organisers told the crowd, mostly made up of women and some children, that they were there to support "a good community priest".

Organisers, who have also set up a Facebook page called 'Bring Father Ciaran Dallat Back' to support the priest, handed out petitions to the crowd urging them to gather more signatures.

They also pledged to hold a candlelit vigil at St Peter's Cathedral on Friday at 7.30pm.

During the event, Sister Georgina Cawley said a decade of the rosary in the grounds of the cathedral.

Despite the controversy, parishioners last night said they wanted him to return to St Peter's.

One man, who did not want to be named, said Fr Dallat has "contributed so much to this parish, he hasn't been here that long, but he's made an immediate impact here from as soon as he arrived".

A woman at the rally also said: "We want to see him back here, he's doing so much for us all and is missed".

Another woman said Fr Dallat "gave so much to the parish, it would be very sad to see him go".

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