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Rome has ordered an investigation into a Catholic priest accused of sexual harassment in Dunedin.
An initial investigation into Fr Fivins Chittilappilly, an assistant priest in Mercy Parish South Dunedin since January 2020, began in March after a complaint was received about his conduct.
The Otago Daily Times understands the incident at the centre of the complaint, made by a woman, was sexual in nature.
The complaint was initially looked into by church authorities in New Zealand, including the National Office for Professional Standards.
Yesterday, Bishop of Dunedin Michael Dooley announced the Roman Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life have directed him to conduct a church investigation into the complaint.
The congregation oversees everything which concerns Institutes of Consecrated Life, including orders, religious congregations, and secular institutes.
Fr Chittilappilly left the parish late last year, and he was stood down from working in ministry or residing in the Dunedin Diocese.
Yesterday Bishop Dooley said Fr Chittilappily left New Zealand last month and returned to India, as his visa to remain in the country had expired.
"He is now living in a Rosminian house in India, under supervision, and is not involved in any public ministry until the investigation is concluded."
The church investigation would involve taking statements and examining evidence, Bishop Dooley said.
It would be undertaken by canon lawyers — men and women in the church who are trained in canon law.
"The lockdown in Auckland has unfortunately delayed the process but I am hopeful that it will be completed as soon as possible," he said.