A priest in Co Kerry has defended providing a character reference for a man convicted of sexually assaulting a woman.

Fr Sean Sheehy described Danny Foley as being always respectful of women and said there was not an abusive bone in his body.

The priest was one of dozens of people who queued to embrace and shake hands with Foley before he was sentenced to seven years in jail.

Danny Foley is a 35-year old bouncer from Listowel in Co Kerry.

At the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee, he was convicted by a jury of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old woman he had met at a nightclub on the night of his 34th birthday.

Minutes before his sentencing hearing yesterday, dozens of people queued in court to embrace and shake hands with Danny Foley.

Fr Sean Sheehy, a priest who has known Danny Foley since he was a teenager, was one of those who queued. He also provided him with a character reference.

Fr Sheehy says he did so with the best of intentions and he would do it again.

The Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre said Fr Sheehy's intervention in this case had a devastating effect on the victim and that he should not have done it.

The victim in this case has not been identified, but she told the court that Listowel is a small town and everybody knew it was her.

She said she felt she was being judged there every day just for telling the truth.

Today she was described as being extremely traumatised.

The Bishop of Kerry, meanwhile, has issued a statement saying he wishes to disassociate himself and the Diocese from the actions and statements made by Fr Sean Sheehy in relation to the sentencing of a man convicted of sexual assault.

Fr Sheehy is retired from an American diocese and is substituting for the Parish Priest of Castlegregory, Fr Tadhg Ó Dochartaigh, who is recuperating from illness.

Bishop William 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.'