MAEVE SHEEHAN THE controversial priest who emerged as the victim of a malicious blackmail attempt last week, is on "administrative leave" from his parish, after defying his bishop.
Fr Michael Kennedy, who is related to the famous American political dynasty, has been at loggerheads with the Bishop of Waterford, Dr William Lee, after a dispute with a parishioner three years ago. The parishioner complained to gardai about the priest.
Fr Kennedy was removed from ministry in the parish of Dunhill, Co Waterford, pending an inquiry. The DPP decided not to press charges, but he has not been allowed back to his parish until a church inquiry concludes.
Fr Kennedy returned to Dunhill in March, where he celebrated several masses, and he was then asked to take "administrative leave".
Parishioners say there is huge support for Fr Kennedy, who was subjected to a malicious blackmail attempt by his graveyard caretaker.
In court last week, it emerged that James Donovan, who tended the graveyard, threatened to accuse Fr Kennedy of sexual assault unless he gave him ?800. James Donovan claimed he needed the money to pay off a drug baron in Limerick.
Fr Kennedy refused and contacted gardai to set up a sting. When Donovan returned to the parochial house that afternoon with his brother, Rossa, for a supposed appointment, detectives were there to meet them.
The brothers tried to escape and, from the getaway car, Rossa Donovan phoned Fr Kennedy on his mobile and told him he was "dead".
Fr Kennedy had looked kindly on his graveyard caretaker in the past. When James Donovan told the priest his mother died, Fr Kennedy gave him ?200 - only to discover that she was still alive. The brothers were sentenced to five-and-a-half years in jail between them last week.
Rossa O'Donovan, having 93 previous convictions, pleaded not guilty and was sentenced to three-and-a-half years imprisonment. James O'Donovan, with 38 previous convictions, pleaded guilty and received a two-year term.
Fr Kennedy was too upset to attend the trial. In a statement read on his behalf, he said he had been tortured for three years and found it difficult to forgive the brothers.