Nine priests have died by suicide after false claims of abuse, says cleric who was also wrongly accused

 Fr Tim Hazelwood was falsely accused of the sexual abuse of a child
 Fr Tim Hazelwood was falsely accused of the sexual abuse of a child

NINE priests who were wrongly accused of abuse have died by suicide, a cleric who was the subject of false accusations has claimed.

Fr Tim Hazelwood, a priest in the parish priest of Killeagh in Co Cork, was falsely accused of the sexual abuse of a child in 2008.

An anonymous complaint was made about him to the Diocese of Cloyne and forwarded to the Health and Safety Executive and Gardaí.

Fr Hazelwood, who is in his 50s, took a civil case in the High Court in Dublin.

Last year his accuser admitted making up the complaint and made a donation to charity.

The priest told RTÉ's Liveline programme yesterday that priests are presumed guilty even if they have done nothing wrong and are struggling under the strain.

"It is still happening today....nine priests have taken their own lives...I am not saying that that was the case in all of them, but in some cases people had breakdowns."

The priest said that a "plethora" of clerics had been wrongly accused - citing 14 other cases in the Diocese of Cloyne alone - and that he had "seen the effect it has had...tragic in some cases."

The priest, who claimed he had no offical support from the Catholic Church as he tried to clear his name, said he was speaking out in a bid to "ensure that this type of thing doesn't happen again."

During his ordeal, Fr Hazelwood received anonymous phone calls and a letter and ended up seeing a doctor.

He said he has been undergoing therapy as part of his recovery.

He said: "My initial reaction was to get a Bible and I swore on it that it wasn't true. Going to sleep was the hardest part. I am getting on well has changed."