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`Affair priest' Fr Ciaran Dallat to return to west Belfast ministry

Clockwise from top left: Fr Ciaran Dallat pictured before he took a break from the parish; a candlelit vigil held last year in support of Fr Dallat; St Peter's Cathedral in west Belfast

A PRIEST who left his west Belfast parish amid accusations he had a two-year relationship with a woman is to return after Easter.

Fr Ciaran Dallat "stepped aside" from ministry a year ago to seek "spiritual guidance and counselling", promising to "repair the hurt and damage that I have caused" ahead of an anticipated return.

It followed revelations of the affair with a Co Down businesswoman in her forties.

There was some surpise on Thursday when the cleric appeared in full robes at the Chrism Mass in St Peter's Cathedral to take part in the service where priests renew and reaffirm their vows and commitment to the bishop and wider church.

One parishioner who contacted the Irish News expressed disappointment that the parish had not prepared them with an announcement ahead of Fr Dallat's inclusion in the ceremony.

Fr Dallat was a popular priest and, following his temporary departure last year, a group of parishioners mounted a campaign for his return.

Around 70 people attended two vigils demanding his return.

The diocese released a statement yesterday explaining the sudden return - including a fulsome apology from the priest himself.

"In March 2015, Fr Ciaran Dallat voluntarily stepped aside from ministry to undertake a time of reparation, spiritual guidance and counselling," a spokesman said.

"At that time, he expressed the hope that with support he would be able to resume the exercise of priestly ministry.

"The Diocese of Down and Connor can confirm that, following the renewal of his commitments of priestly ministry, annually celebrated by all diocesan clergy during the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, Fr Ciaran Dallat resumed his priestly ministry within the Diocese; taking up a new appointment in due course after Easter.

"Fr Ciaran Dallat takes this opportunity to again sincerely apologise to everyone for the hurt and distress that his actions have caused and he affirms that he is committed to serving God and the people of the Diocese of Down and Connor."

However, dissident bishop Pat Buckley, who first exposed the allegations against the priest, said the woman who came forward to tell of a two-year relationship with Fr will be "shocked and hurt" by the development.

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