SUPPORTERS of a priest who stepped down from his position over allegations regarding the safeguarding of children have said he will launch a robust defence against what they described as the "ludicrous" claims.
A groundswell of support has gathered in Blackrock, Co Louth, for Fr Oliver Brennan, who made the decision in order to allow the investigation to proceed.
Substantial anger has been aimed at Bishop Gerard Clifford, who made a statement telling parishioners of the development at a Mass over the weekend.
Last night, a close supporter of Fr Brennan said the priest, who is currently staying with members of his family, was "absolutely devastated" at the allegations.
Fr Brennan, who is originally from Edmondstown, Ardee, Co Louth, is expected to launch a strong defence in what is expected to be a lengthy process.
He has been a priest for 38 years and has been in the parish of Blackrock for some 11 years, where he has garnered a large amount of respect from locals.
"Ultimately, what he would like to do is get back to his priestly ministry and his life's work. That is his reason for his existence.
"He couldn't exist without his pastoral role and priestly role and would be very anxious to get back to that," a source close to Fr Brennan said.
Bishop Clifford was confronted by a number of irate parishioners after he read the statement. He was said to have been visibly affected by their angry reaction.
In a statement, the bishop said the civil authorities had been informed and both the diocese and the priest would be co-operating fully with the investigation.
Last night, both the HSE and the gardai declined to comment on the matter. However, supporters of Fr Brennan have questioned the "natural justice" of the situation, whereby he has stepped down on the basis of an allegation.
"A lot of people are saying an allegation doesn't have to have credibility, it just has to be made without it being tested for its credibility at all.
"Without any investigation, someone's life is just thrown upside down," the source close to Fr Brennan said.
The source added: "When this matter is finally done and dusted, I think a lot of thought will have to be given by a lot of people to the present protocols.
"There must be some investigation of the credibility of an allegation before someone is unceremoniously turfed out."