A PARISH priest who admitted trawling gay websites to meet young men has been allowed time off by his diocese to consider his future.
The small parish of Feakle in east Clare rallied around Fr Michael Hogan (56), urging him not to leave, as the Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Willie Walsh, said he had accepted Mr Hogan's request for a period of time out "in order to reflect on his position".
The disgraced priest left his home yesterday morning as Fr James O'Brien, from nearby Flagmount, celebrated morning Mass with parishioners as they tried to come to terms with the shocking news.
Before leaving St Mary's Church, some of them lit candles and prayed while others called to the parish house less than 500 yards away to offer support.
The priest from Puckane, Co Tipperary, has served in the area for the last four years and has admitted to using the gay website gaydar.ie for private rendezvous with other gay men.
Bishop Walsh is expected back in the country this evening after travelling to a friend's wedding in Portugal.
Unaware of the scandal, local man Michael McNamara (70) had called to Fr Hogan's bungalow to have religious mementoes blessed after yesterday's 9.30am Mass.
Mr McNamara described Fr Hogan as a good community man.
"He was always working away at the church and helped raise a lot of money for the parish here. He recently had the railings on the outside of the church done up and was also working away on the inside of it making big improvements," he said.
"He's a decent fellow who should stay here," said Mr McNamara.
Fr Hogan has issued a statement on the controversy through the diocesan office in Ennis.
"I am deeply ashamed at the revelations in a newspaper concerning me and my private life," he said.
"I acknowledge breaches and indiscretions in relation to my vow of celibacy.
"I apologise profoundly for the hurt and embarrassment caused to the parishoners of Feakle and Killanena-Flagmount, my bishop, fellow priests, to those who know and trust me both within and outside the church community," said Fr Hogan.
Local worker James Brett, who helped to cut the lawn surrounding the parish house yesterday, said that people in the Feakle community would have to wait to see if the whole story, as revealed yesterday, was true.
"We don't know the exact truth about this whole thing. He is a lovely man. People don't know what is going on in this day and age though. Times change.
"He's been very good to everyone here though," said Mr Brett.
Chairperson of Feakle Pastoral Council and local publican Gary Pepper said he was confident that Fr Hogan "will come out of this stronger than ever".
"He is a friend to all of us here. It is obvious he is going through a very difficult time, but he is only a human being and we all have our crosses to bear."
He described Fr Hogan as a humble, caring and approachable man.
"We have so many words we could use to describe him and everyone of them would be positive. The parishoners would not have a bad word about him. He is very generous with his time and has given 100pc commitment and support to the parish since he arrived here four years ago. He is a rock of support in some very difficult times here," said Mr Pepper.
"We do not want him to leave here. He has been very proactive for the whole parish and all humans have frailties. Fr Hogan is fully respected here and this is where we want him to stay," he added. "He needs our prayers, but he will deal with this and he deal with it very well."
Fr Hogan formerly served in the parish of Toomevara in north Tipperary and is understood to have a major interest in the GAA.
He rose to national prominence last year when he celebrated the funeral mass of tragic schoolboy, Karl Cox.
The four-year-old was strangled by his coat as he attempted to climb through a school window after getting locked inside the building last year.
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