Tuesday 15 October 2019

Priest: I'd defend sex attacker in court again

Bishop forced to apologise to victim over cleric's comments

Edel Kennedy

THE priest who gave a glowing character reference for a man convicted of sex abuse has insisted he would do it again.

And last night the Bishop of Kerry was forced to apologise to the victim for the priest's support for her attacker.

There were extraordinary scenes in a Kerry court earlier this week as up to 50 people queued to shake hands with sex offender Danny Foley, a man the judge accused of telling "lie after lie" to the court before being convicted by a unanimous jury.

Fr Sean Sheehy, of Castlegregory, Co Kerry, gave a favourable character reference on behalf of Foley, of Meen, Listowel, after he was accused of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old woman in the town last year.

The furore came on another bad day for the embattled Catholic Church, after the Bishop of Limerick, Donal Murray, announced the Pope had accepted his resignation.

The bishop was heavily criticised in the Dublin diocesan report for his handling of child sex abuse claims, with his actions described as "inexcusable".

An unrepentant Fr Sheehy said he stood by his comments and the fact that he shook the sex abuser's hand in court, saying he wanted to "let him (Foley) know he was not alone".

Foley had told investigating gardai he had come across the woman when he went to a nightclub car park to relieve himself. But he retracted his statement when he was told CCTV footage showed him carrying her across the car park.

Foley was later found standing over the woman, who was naked from the waist down.

Yesterday his fiancee, Michelle O'Sullivan, said she still planned to marry him.

Fr Sheehy also reiterated his support for the sex offender.

"I mean, it's a horrible situation to be in the dock as a prisoner, just sitting with his prison officers," he said. He said that he didn't know the victim but if he did he would have shaken her hand too.

He added that he believed Foley's sentence was "extremely harsh".

"I would go again as a character witness -- I would say the same thing about this person and I would say the same thing about reasonable doubt given the circumstances and given the situation," he said.

"The evidence that she (the victim) said she was quite blurry about a lot of things -- and, as I said, both were under the influence of alcohol which definitely blurs everything."

Fr Sheehy said he did not regret his court support for Foley and his family who he has known for years.

"I didn't go (to court) to represent the Church or anyone else," he said. "I went as a neighbour and I was more than happy to do that."

However, Vera O'Leary of the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre called on Fr Sheehy to rethink his position. "I don't think priests should be involved in sex assault cases. It was really shortsighted of him," she said. In his character reference, Fr Sheehy, a native of Meen, said he had known Foley since he was a teenager. "He always struck me as having the height of respect for women," he said in the statement. "There is not an abusive bone in his body."

Sympathy

In his statement, Bishop of Kerry, Bill Murphy, said: "I wish to offer my sympathy to the victim and to apologise to her on my own behalf and on behalf of the diocese of Kerry.

"I pay tribute to her courage. I hope what has happened will not undermine the progress that has been made in bringing perpetrators of sexual abuse to justice."

Fine Gael's health spokeswoman Senator Frances Fitzgerald said the disgraceful court experience of the victim exposed the continuing social prejudice against victims of sexual crime.

"It is astonishing that yesterday in a courthouse , dozens of people queued up to shake hands and sympathise with a man who had been convicted of sexually assaulting a young woman," she said.

"The conviction, the victim and the severity of the crime have been undermined. A report from the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland entitled 'Rape and Justice in Ireland' states that: 'A victim in court is treated with very little respect' with one victim describing the ordeal as a 'very lonely kind of place'."

Labour's Jan O'Sullivan said the fact that 50 people queued to shake Foley's hand was "shameful". "I am sure that the majority of decent people of Listowel were as repulsed as the rest of the country at this show of support for a convicted sex abuser," she said.

Irish Independent

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