Friday 28 July 2017

Comment: Bishop Eamonn Casey was Ireland's most-loved priest when his affair was exposed

Bishop Eamon Casey and Fr Michael Cleary during a special youth mass in Galway during the Pontiff's visit
Bishop Eamon Casey and Fr Michael Cleary during a special youth mass in Galway during the Pontiff's visit
Bishop Eamon Casey
American divorcee Annie Murphy had a child with Bishop Eamon Casey in the mid-1970s when he was Bishop of Kerry. Photo: Tom Burke

Terry McGeehan

It would be the understatement of the century to say that the nation was shocked in 1992 when it was revealed that Bishop Eamonn Casey had fathered a secret son.

But that revelation was only the first in a series of seismic shocks about Ireland’s most loved priest.

This story had absolutely everything - sex, secrecy, forbidden love, heartbreak and high-octane drama.

Not only had Casey fathered a son but the boy’s mother was an attractive American divorcee called Annie Murphy who proved to be no pushover even for the likes of Gay Byrne.

And not only had he shattered his vows of celibacy but he had for years been maintaining his child with some money taken from the diocesan fund while he was Bishop of Galway.

And not only had he done all this but he was also a dyed-in-the-wool, 100pc hypocrite for effectively denying his son for years while maintaining the outward image of being a devout pillar of the Irish Catholic Church.

It has to be remembered that in 1992 we were all so innocent about the private lives of the Catholic clergy compared to what we know now.

And to be fair to Casey, his actions were innocence personified compared to the depravity that some of his priests were getting up to.

But the nation was shocked to its core to say the least when Annie Murphy exposed her former lover as the two-faced father of her son Peter.

Let’s not forget that this is the cleric who nearly outshone Pope Paul the Second when he visited Galway in 1979.

And here he was having a torrid affair and fathering a love child during all those years when he was preaching chastity, condemning sex outside of marriage and extolling the virtues of holy matrimony.

Casey resigned almost immediately after the scandal broke and fled to South America.

His punishment was to lived a spartan life as a missionary priest compared to the luxury he’d enjoyed in Ireland as a bon viveur who liked a drink, loved to talk, was the heart and soul of any party and the undisputed darling of the media circus.

He was larger than life, would burst into song at the slightest hint of an invitation and was universally loved by his congregations for simply being a breath of fresh air compared to the grey austerity of the church.

So when the truth hit the fan in 1992, there was hell to pay in Catholic Ireland.

But besides the disbelief from many quarters and portrayal of Annie Murphy as some kind of gold-digging temptress, there was also the more sinister suggestion that Casey had taken advantage of a young woman reeling from a recent divorce, who’d come to Ireland to recover.

Needless to say, there was also humour in the public’s reaction with T-shirts appearing saying “Wear a condom - just in Casey”.

But for many the highlight of the entire scandal was Annie Murphy’s appearance on the Late Late Show, compered by that other national treasure Gay Byrne.

This was to be the defining moment, this was to be the nation’s final verdict on Annie Murphy.

Uncle Gaybo would get to the bottom of it.

But try as he might, Murphy could not be cast in any light other than as a woman wronged.

And the highlight of the interview which most people will remember is when Gay declared - “If Peter is half the man his father is, he'll be doing well”.

And cool, calm and collected Annie Murphy replied - “Well, Mr Byrne, I'm not half bad myself”.

And then she left the studio having delivered the last resounding word.

It all seems so long ago now and we now know so much more about the sleazy underbelly of the Irish Catholic Church.

But back then, Eamonn Casey, Annie Murphy and their forbidden love affair were box-office beyond belief.

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