AN OUTSPOKEN NORTH CLARE parish priest has made an undisclosed payout arising from a court action taken by a traveller woman concerning a First Holy Communion flashpoint eight years ago.
At Ennis Circuit Court, Judge Francis Comerford noted the out-of-court settlement between parish priest of Ennistymon, Fr Willie Cummins and Caroline Sherlock.
Ms Sherlock took a separate action against the late Martin Drennan, former Bishop of the Diocese Of Galway and Kilmacduagh concerning her discrimination case.
The joint discrimination action by Ms Sherlock arose from the alleged refusal by Fr Cummins to allow her attend the Church of Our Lady and St Michael, Ennistymon for her niece and nephew’s First Communion on May 23rd 2015.
Judge Comerford made the out of court settlement between the late Martin Drennan – who died last November – and Caroline Sherlock a rule of court.
After being handed in the settlement terms, Judge Comerford queried was the amount in the settlement the amount to be paid by Fr Cummins and the late Martin Drennan the one sum or separate sums.
In response, counsel for the late Martin Drennan said “separate” and asked that on that basis the case can be struck out. He said that “both matters were resolved and both matters were settled on the same terms”.
The amounts paid out were not disclosed. Ms Sherlock or her Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) legal team were not in court and Fr Cummins and his own solicitor were not present.
The cases were before the court on appeal from a failed 2020 discrimination case action at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) brought by Ms Sherlock against Fr Cummins arising from her niece, Stacey and nephew, Martin’s Holy Communion at Ennistymon Church in May 2015.
At the WRC, Adjudicator, Louise Boyle dismissed Ms Sherlock’s claim on a legal point.
At the WRC Fr Cummins denied the substantive discrimination allegations and it was successfully argued on his behalf that the type of religious service, Holy Communion, is not covered by the Equal Status Act.
In the published WRC ruling, Ms Boyle said that if she was to find otherwise, “it would be unlawful for Churches to refuse the Sacrament of Matrimony to persons who were divorced, or to provide that facility to persons of the same gender. Likewise, it would be unlawful to provide access to Holy Orders to exclusively men to the exclusion of women”.
Caroline Sherlock alleges that on the day Fr. Cummins stopped her from entering the Church due to what she was wearing. Gardaí were called to the Church at 11am on the day but confirmed at the time that there was no public order incident of a breach of the peace detected and no one was arrested.
Caroline Sherlock could not be reached for comment on the settlement however, her sister, Kathleen and mother of the two children celebrating their communion welcomed the payout.
Speaking outside her home at the Deerpark Halting site overlooking Ennistymon in north Clare, Kathleen Sherlock recalled the events of May 23rd 2015 and said “it was humiliating – I wanted to be in the Church for my babies’ communion and I missed it”.
She said, “It ruined our day. Completely destroyed it altogether. Everyone was upset”.
Kathleen Sherlock said that she was going in and out of the Church to see what the commotion was at the Church door “and I was trying to get them in and trying to explain to the priest. There were Guards there as well”.
She said, “Caroline had a skirt above her knee and Fr Cummins didn’t want her to go in due to a (dress) policy. But there were a lot of settled people – ladies – with the same shortness of skirt and they were allowed into the Church”.
Kathleen said, “My own daughter, Kathleen Marie wasn’t allowed into the Church either because she had an off-the shoulder top”.
Ms Sherlock said, “We missed our children’s communion which we can’t get back”.
Ms Sherlock alleged that “it was discrimination against travellers”.
Ms Sherlock said that on the day, “Caroline was at the door and did all the speaking and did the answering back to the priest and she was right because she was entitled to go into the Church no matter what way she was dressed”.
Ms Sherlock said that her faith is “very important” to her. However she said that she has not returned to Ennistymon Church since her children’s Holy Communion in May 2015 and now goes to Lahinch Church instead.
Ms Sherlock – who said that Fr Cummins has been in her home before – has not made amends. She said, “I’m very disappointed about that.”
When contacted by phone to comment on the out of court settlement, Fr Cummins declined to comment.
In 2021, Fr Cummins was in the spotlight after it emerged he was staging regular Sunday morning masses at Ennistymon Church during a Covid-19 lock-down period saying at the time that no person has got Covid-19 from attending his masses.
During the same year, Fr Cummins denounced the planned ‘Púca of Ennistymon’ sculpture as “sinister” from the altar at Sunday mass.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Galway stated that it noted the court action was concluded “without liability being determined and in terms which both parties have agreed should remain confidential”.
The spokesman stated, “In light of this, no further commentary is available on this matter.” The spokesman stated that the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora was not a party to these proceedings.
The spokesman declined to comment when asked if the diocese had covered the legal costs of Fr Cummins or the late Bishop Drennan or made the payments referred to in court.
A spokeswoman for FLAC stated that it not cannot make a comment on the case at this time given the terms of the settlement. FLAC highlighted the case in its 2021 annual report.