A notorious Irish pedophile priest who abused children for many years in America has been discovered helping out as a church deacon in Rotterdam under an assumed name and working a shelter for abused women and their children.

Father Oliver O'Grady served as a priest at St. Anne's Catholic Church in Lodi, California from 1971 to 1978. He later served at Church of the Presentation in Stockton, California, Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Turlock, California, St. Andrew's Parish in San Andreas, California, and St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Hughson, California.

In 1993 he was convicted on four counts of "lewd and lascivious acts" on two minors, the brothers John and James Howard, and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Attorney Jeff Anderson said the Howards were repeatedly molested between 1978 and 1991, from age three to 13. Anderson claimed church officials knew that O'Grady had abused children as early as 1976 and 1984 but had done nothing. Police had been informed of earlier charges and had declined to prosecute.

In 1998 a civil jury ordered the Catholic Diocese of Stockton to pay US$30 million in damages to the brothers. A judge later reduced the amount to $7 million.

O'Grady was paroled from prison in 2000 after serving only seven years, and went to Ireland after being deported from the United States.

He claimed to have been himself molested by a priest at the age of 10, and that he was involved in sexual abuse in his own family, both as perpetrator and victim. One of his victims was just nine months old.

The defrocked priest referred to himself as 'Brother Francis' in Rotterdam. He was thought to be living in Ireland but had recently disappeared. He was found by the Sunday Tribune newspaper.

The parishioners attending the Church of the Holy Heart, Christ Our Redeemer, had no knowledge about the man once described as one of the most dangerous pedophiles ever. The newspaper reported he was also working at a fast food restaurant where he helped organize children's parties.

He gained notoriety when the film "Deliver Us From Evil' was released about his case. It was when the documentary was released in Holland two weeks ago that he was recognized.

Parishioners told the Sunday Tribune he was "acting as a church deacon, helping the priest with the sacraments and organising the choir singing. On one occasion, when the priest was late, the defrocked cleric celebrated the mass until he arrived."

Fr Avin Kunnekkadan, on said he was unaware of O'Grady's criminal past.

"I did not know about his background. I did not know about his past at all," he said this weekend. An announcement was made at the church last week informing the congregation about O'Grady's criminal past.

Last week, O'Grady was also served with a civil action at his Dublin hostel by Californian attorneys Manly, McGuire & Stewart.

The firm specialises in clerical sex abuse cases and represents several of O'Grady's victims who are taking civil actions against him.