Friday, December 18, 2009

Bishop apologises in wake of priest's support of sex offender

Bishop apologises in wake of priest's support of sex offender
CONOR LALLY, KITTY HOLLAND and ANNE LUCEY

Fri, Dec 18, 2009

THE BISHOP of Kerry Bill Murphy has dissociated himself from Fr Seán Sheehy, the priest who shook hands with a sex offender awaiting sentencing in court and provided him a character reference in which he said he was always respectful to women.

The priest later criticised the “extremely harsh” seven-year jail term imposed by Judge Donagh McDonagh at the sentencing hearing in Tralee, Co Kerry, on Wednesday, of Danny Foley (35), Meen, Listowel, Co Kerry.

Fr Sheehy has defended his actions, saying he shook Foley’s hand in court because he wanted to “support him and let him know he was not alone”.

In a statement last night, Bishop Murphy said he wished to dissociate himself and the diocese from Fr Sheehy’s actions and statements.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Fr Sheehy is retired from an American diocese and is substituting for the parish priest of Castlegregory, Fr Tadhg Ó Dochartaigh, who has been ill.

Fr Sheehy was one of up to 50 people who queued in the courthouse in Tralee to shake hands with and embrace Foley before he was sentenced.

In her victim impact statement the woman, who has not been publicly identified, said she felt “judged”, adding that everybody in Listowel knew she was the woman at the centre of the case.

Gardaí on patrol found the victim, then aged 22, semi-conscious alongside a skip in a Listowel car park early on June 15th, 2008, with a man “crouching over her”. She was naked from the waist down. She had extensive bruises and scratching.

Vera O’Leary, manager of the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre (KRCC), said the victim was in court waiting to give her statement as Foley was supported by Fr Sheehy and others.

The victim had been “confused and just completely in shock that this could be allowed to happen”.

The KRCC had been inundated with calls from people dissociating themselves from the actions of those in court.

Ms O’Leary said it was important the victim, who is suicidal, knew she was supported by the majority of the community.

The Irish Courts Service said if an offender was in custody – which Foley has been since his conviction two weeks ago – the issue of people approaching him was a matter for the prison officers who brought him to court or for the Irish Prison Service.

There were no protocols relating to approaches in court to people not already in custody.

A prison service spokesman said it had no role in maintaining order in a courthouse.

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