LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A Catholic priest who helped lead his county’s football team to the national championship has voluntarily and temporarily stepped aside as a pastor in Northern Ireland after “concerns” were brought to his archdiocese about an alleged incident from before his ordination.
Father Gerard McAleer is currently the parish priest of St. Patrick’s Church in Donaghmore in the Archdiocese of Armagh, and a longtime figure in the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).
The GAA is one of the major cultural institutions on the island of Ireland, and governs traditional Irish sports, the most prominent being Gaelic football – a fifteen-a-side sport that resembles a combination of soccer and rugby – and hurling – which is similar to field hockey and lacrosse.
McAleer was a prominent coach in Gaelic football, and was the assistant manager when County Tyrone, located in Northern Ireland, won their first All-Ireland Senior Football Championship title in 2003, with nearly 80,000 people watching the final.
There are few details about the allegations against McAleer, which were said to have taken place before his ordination, which was in 1981.
“In line with the safeguarding policy and the standards and guidance of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Armagh has voluntarily stood aside from his position because of concerns brought to the diocese and reported to the gardai [the police force in Ireland]. The information received is historic and relates to a time prior to his time in ministry in the archdiocese, and indeed prior to his ordination as a priest,” a statement from the archdiocese said.
“The relevant statutory authorities in Northern Ireland have been informed. The Archbishop of Armagh has asked for prayers for all concerned while stressing that during the period of the investigation, the priest, who has voluntarily stepped aside from all his pastoral duties, continues to be entitled to the natural right of every person to the presumption of innocence pending the completion of all relevant State and Church processes,” the statement concluded.
Aside from his extensive involvement with GAA youth activities, McAleer is also a former principal of St. Patrick’s Boys Academy in Dungannon and St. Brigid’s High School in Armagh.