The investigative series has been temporarily axed to allow for a probe by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland into the defamation of Fr Kevin Reynolds in one of its programmes.
But a group representing Ireland’s priests say they are incensed that the under-fire series scooped a prestigious gong at last weekend’s IFTAs for an unrelated episode, which probed standards of care in nursing homes.
The Association of Catholic Priests also said it believes “Mission To Prey”, the programme in which Fr Reynolds was defamed, would actually have won the award for Best Current Affairs/News had the state broadcaster not been dragged to court in November.
RTÉ apologised in the High Court to missionary Fr Reynolds for grossly defaming him by falsely alleging in the programme, which was aired in May, that he raped a teenage girl in Kenya and fathered a child with her.
But the ACP, which supported Fr Reynolds in his legal action against RTÉ, said the decision to reward the series last weekend was “inappropriate” and against “common decency”.
Spokesman Tony Flannery said: “Would you believe it? Prime Time Investigates gets an award tonight. I have no doubt that, if we hadn’t been in the position to challenge them through the courts, the award would probably have gone to ‘Mission to Prey’.
“If the Church behaved like this, it would have been condemned on all sides. I would have thought that common decency, if nothing else, would have prevented such an award being given this year.”
Just days before the IFTAs, Prime Time Investigates presenter Miriam O’Callaghan told how she was hoping the series, which had two nominations in the current affairs/news category, would emerge a winner on the night, adding that it had “been a very difficult year for everyone on the show”.
But her remarks were also slammed by the ACP as “shameless”.
In an interview with The Irish Catholic, Fr Flannery said: “It was very inappropriate to give an award to any Prime Time Investigates programme this year.
“Miriam O’Callaghan going on record a few days before the awards hoping that Prime Time Investigates would get one was shameless.
“There is no doubt that if a bishop or religious leader acted in a similar way there would be widespread condemnation.”
Fr Flannery added that the IFTA decision was “doubly inappropriate considering there is a further case being taken against RTÉ in relation to that programme”.
Fr Reynolds received substantial damages from RTÉ late last year, while the broadcaster acknowledged the allegations were “baseless”, “without any foundation whatsoever and untrue” and “ought never to have been broadcast”.
Fr Reynolds has returned to work in Ahascragh, Co Galway, having been suspended from his duties following the allegations.