“She’s the mother of a young child too, and you know, that in itself doesn’t look great”.
Let’s play a game.
Who said this? Was it a judge in the 1952 Rose of Tralee? Maybe it was a Iranian college admissions officer. Or a Tory backbencher when it came to picking a council candidate in the mid-70s?
Nope. None of the above. It was a priest in Listowel, Co Kerry, in 2013. And the woman he’s talking about. She’s a victim of sexual assault.
Except Father Seán Sheehy doesn’t believe her. Even though Danny Foley has been convicted and already served his time, he cannot believe that judge and jury would get it wrong.
Foley’s family have asked for privacy, and do you know what, I’m going to give it to them. Danny Foley’s not worthy of comment. There are Danny Foleys all over the country; all over the world in fact. Sometimes they get caught. More times they don’t. But they are aided and abetted by the likes of Father Sheehy. And it’s the Father Sheehys I’d like to talk about today.
Many of us remember the verdict of the Foley trial for the incident where up to 50 locals shook his hand, while his victim looked on. They believed he was innocent. Why, though? It’s not as if an Irish town will stand by every person convicted of assault, sexual or otherwise. There have been cases where families have been forced to move because of the deeds of their relatives. Convicted rapist Larry Murphy’s brother Thomas has said he received death threats from locals.
So what is the difference between this case and others? The unspoken factor here is social class. Or, to make it more Irish, the family name. We do like to think that Ireland is a classless society. We laugh at those with airs and graces. However, the fact is, it’s not. Social mobility is easier and more likely than in other countries, true; but many of our leaders in business and politics went to private school; Ruairi Quinn, Tony O’Reilly, Michael O’Leary, just some names from the top of my head.
Much of the talk surrounding Foley concentrated on his family; a good family, a respected family. It seems that people didn’t believe that Foley was capable of the assault based on surname alone.
His victim was not so respected. A single mother from a family who didn’t have a ‘name’. And as anyone in small-town Ireland knows, if your family doesn’t have a good name, you have a fairly slim chance of earning it for them.
Father Sheehy gave Foley a robust character reference during his trial. He said that Foley had the “height of respect for women”. Which begs the question, how does he know? Father Sheehy was never the parish priest in Listowel. He was acting as relief, and is actually based in the neighbouring parish of Castlegregory. Which again leads us to ask the question, how did he know?
Character witnesses are a major problem in court cases. Just because the defendant is good at GAA or never attacked anyone during mass, it doesn’t mean they are innocent. We are all capable of heinous acts, every single one of us. How many times have we heard the murderer’s wife say “I had no idea”? We can live with someone for years and not know the depths their mind. What makes us think we really know the people we drink with, play football with or serve communion to?
Much as Father Sheehy judged Foley without really knowing him, he also judged the woman at the centre of this case. The unspoken implication being that she’d evidently had sex before, so how could she claim to be sexually assaulted? This is disgusting, but not uncommon, language around the topic of single motherhood.
People who attack single mothers rarely ever focus on the men. They seem to get themselves pregnant, like some kind of exotic lizard, without ever needing the imput of sperm. Never mind that the facts. If you are raising a child alone, you clearly deserve everything you get, according to Father Sheehy.
I’m tired of people like him. And to his credit, the Bishop of Kerry at the time, Dr Bill Murphy, condemned him wholeheartedly, so he must be tired of him too. But it’s not like Father Sheehy went on a solo run. There are plenty, men and women, who judge based on outdated precepts. Plenty of drunken men who bang the door of a single mother’s house when they come out of the pub. Who cares about the toddler sleeping inside, when there’s a loose woman to pester? Plenty who foam at the mouth about council houses and benefits and ignore the fact that single parents’ children are 69% more likely to experience a form of deprivation. Plenty who rave on about people giving up relationships which were impossible to stay in. Plenty who ignore single male parents, and those escaping domestic violence, addict partners, etc bloody etc.
Christians like Father Seán Sheehy would make Christ sick.