An Irish priest who gave a character reference to a sex offender stepped down from his position in a Kerry parish earlier today.

Fr. Seán Sheehy had told the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee that Danny Foley, a nightclub security guard, had “not an abusive bone in his body,” according to the Irish Independent. Foley, 35, has been convicted of assaulting a 22-year-old woman.

On a radio talkshow after the court case Fr. Sheehy said that Foley’s seven year sentence was "extremely harsh," and said he had no regrets about providing the character reference.

The priest was one of about 50 people, mostly older men, who shook hands with and hugged the convicted man before he was brought to the dock, the Independent said.

The Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Center criticized Fr. Sheehy, who testified in court that Foley had the height of respect for women. Bishop Murphy of the Kerry diocese called him to a meeting earlier today, after which the priest offered to withdraw from his work in the parish.

A note on the Kerry diocese website says: “This morning Fr. Seán Sheehy and Bishop Bill Murphy met. In view of recent events Fr. Seán Sheehy offered to withdraw from his work in the parish of Castlegregory.”

The note adds, “The Bishop of Kerry accepted his offer which takes effect from today, Friday the 18th of December.”