An 80-year-old retired priest in Cape Breton faced more than 20 sex-related charges in a court in Sydney on Tuesday.

Fr. Hugh Vincent MacDonald is accused of indecent assault, gross indecency and rape. Most of the charges date back nearly 30 years.

The investigation began after David Martin committed suicide last April, but in his suicide note he accused MacDonald of sexually abusing him in the 1970s.

MacDonald was the pastor at St. Agnes Church, in New Waterford, a coal mining town near Sydney. Martin had been an altar boy.

When Martin's accusation became public, police began receiving similar complaints from more than a dozen people, men and women.

"The offences are alleged to have occurred when the complainants were children, most of them under the age of 15 years," said Diane McGrath, the special prosecutor assigned to the case.

The youngest complainant was eight at the time the assault was alleged to have happened.

MacDonald appeared in court surrounded by police. He did not speak during his 10-minute court appearance.

He has been released under a number of restrictions imposed by the court, including one keeping him away from children under 14.

MacDonald's lawyer will enter pleas on his client's behalf at the end of May.