Northern Ireland

Letter reveals County Down priest fraud charge

A statement has been read out at Masses in a County Down church in relation to a priest accused of embezzling funds.

Parishioners of St Macartan's Church, Loughinisland, were told that retired priest Father Conleth Byrne, 78, had been charged with defrauding the church of more than £145,000.

Father Byrne was parish priest at Loughinisland at the time.

The statement said that the diocese of Down and Connor and Father Byrne were co-operating fully with the police.

The statement, read out on Sunday, confirmed that Father Byrne had been charged with dishonestly abusing a position of trust by making payments to a person with the intention of making a gain for himself or another person, or to cause a loss to the parish of Loughinisland.

"Payments are alleged to have been made between January 1 2008 and 31 July 2009."

It added: "As part of a diocesan financial check into parishes carried out in July 2009, the Down and Connor diocesan finance office identified financial entries in a parish account which raised concerns.

"The diocese reported the situation to the police."

It is understood that Fr Byrne is currently living in Our Lady of Bethlehem Abbey in Portglenone, County Antrim, home of the Cistercian Order.

He has served in Kilkeel, Helen's Bay, Lower Mourne, Antrim and Killyleagh.

He was parish priest in Loughinisland for more than a decade.