An Oxfordshire priest who has helped raise thousands of pounds for a South African hostel for homeless teenagers is facing child sex charges in the country.

Father Tony Hogg, of St James the Great Church in West Hanney, near Wantage, was arrested and charged with the indecent assault of a 10-year-old during a recent charity trip.

Since 1997, he has encouraged parishioners to raise more than £50,000 for the Don Bosco street project in Cape Town.

Hogg has denied the allegations and his lawyers claim he is the victim of a blackmail attempt.

The 52-year-old priest was granted £100 bail and allowed to travel home, but must return to South Africa to face trial on August 11. The court's decision to allow him to return to England sparked protests by South African children's rights protesters.

Villagers in West Hanney, where Hogg has been the parish priest for nearly two decades, were coming to terms with the news today.

At services yesterday morning, taken by parish curate Father Stephen James, they were told Hogg had voluntarily stepped down from parish duties until the matter had been resolved.

A statement by the Bishop of Reading, the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell, was read out during the service at St James the Great Church and at services in East Challow and Denchworth, where Hogg is priest-in-charge.

The statement confirmed that he had been arrested and charged with the indecent assault of a minor during his most recent trip to South Africa and that he would be pleading not guilty.

The bishop added: "This is a difficult and testing time for all of us, and especially for Fr Tony. Could I ask you please to pray for him and for all involved in this case."

It continued: "Can I assure you that I am in contact with Fr Tony, that I am praying for him and for all of you and for the communities you serve."

The bishop said he had asked parish curate Father Stephen James, along with church wardens, to take over parish duties.

Stuart Cakebread, church warden at the West Hanney church, said parishioners and villagers were giving their full support to their parish priest.

He added: "He has done an enormous amount of good for nearly two decades. He is highly respected and much loved.

"I am appalled that this blackmail attempt should be made against him. He has our full support."

Mr Cakebread said the support of the bishop had been a great help to both the priest and his parishes.

He said arrangements had been made to ensure that services continued until the matter had been resolved.

Since Hogg started the 'Pennies from Heaven' campaign, in aid of the Don Bosco hostel project, parishioners have raised around £50,000 through numerous events.

The project aims to help stop homeless teenagers and young men from sleeping rough and becoming involved in crime.

Hogg has made annual trips to Cape Town over the past nine years to hand over money raised in his parishes.