HUNTER parishioners and visitors from as far away as Sydney were among about 100 people to attend a function at a Port Stephens restaurant this week that raised $18,000 for a Catholic priest accused of child sexual assault.
The function, a "Greek-themed night" that included an auction of donated items such as football jerseys, was held at The Deck restaurant, at Soldiers Point, on Monday evening to raise money for priest David O'Hearn, 48, of Raymond Terrace.
The priest, who was stood down from his position at St Michael's parish, Nelson Bay, attended the event despite being described as initially "a bit nervous" about what the crowd would say.
It is understood the function has infuriated other Catholic parishioners.
Corlette resident and parishioner Tony McGowan said the function had been organised by himself and four other O'Hearn supporters and had nothing to do with the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.
He emphasised the function had not been promoted as raising cash for O'Hearn's legal fees, but rather an amount for "him to use for whatever he wanted".
Tickets were sold, cash donations made and items donated by supporters and businesses were auctioned.
"It was packed to the rafters . . .and everyone wanted to know when the next [night] would be," Mr McGowan said.
O'Hearn, previously based at Muswellbrook and Toronto, was charged in February with seven child sex offences relating to one alleged victim.
Detectives laid another six counts of indecent assault in July taking the number of alleged victims to four and the total number of charges to 19.
Mr McGowan said O'Hearn, who had supported him at the time of his wife's death, had been under enormous pressure since the charges were laid, which had prompted the function.
He said he had not heard of any complaints about the function, but that "everyone is entitled to their opinion".
A diocese spokeswoman said Bishop Michael Malone was out of the area and unavailable for comment.
She said the diocese had not been involved in organising the event. She declined to respond to a question as to whether the diocese considered it appropriate that the function took place.