Published Tuesday, 06 November 2012
The retired priest denies the charges. (© UTV)
Fr Conleth Byrne, 78, allegedly paid monies to a woman from the funds of his former parish of Loughinisland in the Diocese of Down and Connor.
No details surrounding the fraud were given to Downpatrick Crown Court on Tuesday, as his trial, expected to last three to four days, was fixed for the end of January.
Initially Fr Byrne appeared apprehensive when asked to confirm his date of birth before being asked for address, which he gave as the "guest house in Portglenone Monastery".
Judge David Smyth explained that these were only "formal questions, introduced for the purpose of the court record".
However, when the single charge that he defrauded his former parish between 1 January 2008, and October the following year, Fr Byrne, in a clear voice, stated: "Not Guilty".
He is accused that "whilst occupying a position in which he was expected to safeguard, or not to act against, the financial interests of the Parish of Loughinisland, dishonestly abused that position in that he made a number of payments from Parish funds to Marie Hanna totalling £145,617 or thereabouts, with the intention, by means of the abuse of that position to make a gain for himself or another or to cause loss to another".
Before his retirement and move to Bethlehem Abbey in Portglenone, the popular priest had been actively involved in community life and facilitated pre-marriage courses for couples in the area.