The Catholic parish priest who defended and shook hands with a convicted sex assaulter in 2009 has now bizarrely criticized the victim of the crime because she is the mother of a young child. The convicted man is about to be released from prison, and Father Sean Sheehy has said of the victim:
“I don’t want to make any judgment on her at all, but obviously the whole situation must have been embarrassing, for the police to happen upon them and what-not. She’s the mother of a young child as well and, you know, that in itself doesn’t look great.”
How on earth is a woman being the mother of a young child relevant to her being the victim of a serious sex assault? And how on earth does it ‘not look great’ for a woman to be the mother of a young child? Even putting aside his lack of empathy and compassion for real people, is he aware of the role of Mary in the mythology of his own religion?
Also, why on earth should it be ‘embarrassing’ for the police to ‘happen upon’ a serious crime being committed? The arrival of the police at a crime should be a source of relief for the victim, and anxiety for the criminal. Although, in this case, the victim was semi-conscious.
It is worth remembering just how disgraceful this case was.
In December 2009, Danny Foley, a nightclub doorman from the town of Listowel in County Kerry, was found guilty of sexually assaulting a local woman. A police patrol had found the victim semi-conscious, bruised, scratched, and naked from the waist down, with a man crouching over her, beside a skip in a car park.
Foley had claimed that he had found the woman there and was trying to revive her, but CCTV footage showed him carrying her to the car park from a party at the nightclub. He was jailed for five years.
Just before his sentence was announced, up to fifty local people, most of them men, queued inside the courthouse to shake hands with or hug him and sympathize with him. This show of solidarity took place in front of the victim, who was waiting to give her victim impact statement.
One of the organizers of the show of solidarity was the local Catholic parish priest, Fr Sean Sheehy. He later said he shook hands with the guilty man to support him and let him know he wasn’t alone. When asked why he hadn’t shaken hands with the victim, he said that it didn’t even occur to him to do so.
The controversy split the town of Listowel, where Foley was popular with many locals. The victim was devastated. She felt suicidal, but her toddler son kept her going.
Then the national media picked up the story, and wider public opinion intervened. People flooded the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre with flowers and supportive messages. The woman was amazed and elated by this huge show of support.
Within days, the parish priest had stood down. Now he has decided to add to the controversy, by slandering the victim of a serious crime on the bizarre grounds that she is the mother of a young child.
Ireland today is a much more pluralist country than the one which Father Sheehy would like us to inhabit. But there are still remnants of old-style Catholic bigotry, and we should be constantly working to replace them with empathy, compassion, human rights and a just society.