Saturday 21 October 2017

Obituary: Bishop Casey rocked the Catholic Church with scandal

Bishop Eamonn Casey out for an early morning stroll in Shanaglish, Co Galway, in 2006. Photo: Brian Farrell
Bishop Eamonn Casey out for an early morning stroll in Shanaglish, Co Galway, in 2006. Photo: Brian Farrell

Clodagh Sheehy

Bishop Eamonn Casey single-handedly shattered the traditional faith of many Irish Catholics when it emerged that he had fathered a child and then tried to have his son adopted. The revelations of Casey's double life rocked the trust of ordinary Catholics forcing them to question Church teaching.

The story made headlines across the world.

Bishop Casey visiting Fr Niall O’Brian and other prisoners in Bacolod prison in the Philippines in 1984.
Bishop Casey visiting Fr Niall O’Brian and other prisoners in Bacolod prison in the Philippines in 1984.

The shock was all the more acute as Casey, first as Bishop of Kerry and then of Galway, had been a hugely popular and influential Church figure.

Annie Murphy, the mother of Casey's son, went public about their relationship in May 1992.

Their son, Peter, was 18 years old at the time.

Ms Murphy, an American and second cousin once removed from Casey, had come to Ireland to get over a divorce in 1973.

In 2013, Peter spoke about his joy at being reunited with his father
In 2013, Peter spoke about his joy at being reunited with his father

The two had a passionate affair which began in a holiday home used by Casey at Inch, Co Kerry.

Ms Murphy gave birth to Peter in Dublin in 1974.

In going public, Ms Murphy told her story to newspapers and also on RTÉ's 'Late Late Show'.

She claimed that Mr Casey had put intense pressure on her to give the child up for adoption but she had refused and instead brought her son back to America and raised him with her parents.

The bishop arrives back in Ireland off the ferry at Dublin Port in 2005. Photo: PA
The bishop arrives back in Ireland off the ferry at Dublin Port in 2005. Photo: PA

Although Mr Casey made payments towards Peter's upbringing, Ms Murphy was furious that he absolutely refused to have any relationship with his son.

It was this anger which led to her decision to go public.

Mr Casey was Bishop of Galway when the story broke.

He was forced to resign and leave the country.

He also confirmed at the time that IR£70,000 had been taken from a Galway Diocesan Fund on his instruction and paid to Ms Murphy.

He said he had always intended to pay back this money. It was paid for him by several donors after his resignation.

Ms Murphy wrote a book about her relationship with Bishop Casey in 1993 called 'Forbidden Fruit'.

Eamonn Casey was born in Firies in Co Kerry on April 23, 1927.

He was the second son of a family of five sons and five daughters.

He went to the local national school and when the family moved to Adare in Co Limerick he attended the local Christian Brother's school and then St Munchin's College in Limerick.

Mr Casey studied for the priesthood at St Patrick's College Maynooth from 1944 and was ordained a priest for the Limerick Diocese in 1951 by the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.

Over the following nine years he worked as a curate in two Limerick city parishes - Monaleen and Saint John's - before being appointed to the Irish Emigrant Chaplaincy Service in England.

Mr Casey got involved with Irish emigrants in England, initially through his Limerick parish work. He kept in touch by letter and would visit them during holidays in England.

He moved full time to Slough, outside London, to work with the huge number of Irish emigrants living in the area.

He was active in the Catholic Housing Aid Society and was held in high regard by the Irish Catholic community in London.

Mr Casey was consecrated as Bishop of Kerry in the Cathedral in Killarney in July 1969.

It was during his period as Bishop of Kerry that he became involved with Ms Murphy.

He remained in Kerry until 1976 when he was appointed Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and apostolic administrator of Kilfenora.

Mr Casey was regarded as a progressive Church leader, particularly in the Galway Diocese which had been led for nearly 40 years by the conservative Bishop Michael Browne.

He supported the Dunnes Stores staff when they were locked out from 1982-86 for refusing to sell goods from apartheid South Africa.

And he also called on the Irish Rugby Football Union to cancel a proposed tour of South Africa in 1981.

He was also a vocal opponent of the United States policy in Central America.

In February 1984, Mr Casey made headlines when he visited the late Fr Niall O'Brien in jail in the Philippines where he, along with two other priests and six lay workers, had been wrongly accused of murder.

Mr Casey described conditions in Bacolod Jail, where Fr O'Brien was being held, as "sub-human".

He called on the Irish Government to publicly condemn the Philippines government, not just for the wrongful imprisonment of Fr O'Brien but for the many cases of injustice in the country.

Mr Casey was a tour-de-force organising services and help for the poor and marginalised groups. He also set up the third-world charity Trócaire.

His work with that agency drove its growth and he has been credited with helping millions of people across the world in that role.

Yesterday, executive director of Trócaire, Éamonn Meehan, said Mr Casey would be remembered with gratitude in the developing world.

"For two decades Bishop Casey was the driving force behind Trócaire. Bishop Casey and Brian McKeown, the first director, formed a dynamic partnership.

"Together, they stood courageously with the world's poor and championed their cause when others would not do so," he said.

At the same time he had a reputation for driving fast, enjoying fine wines and travelling abroad.

Although part of a liberal trend in the Church he still supported celibacy for priests and was against pre-marital sex.

Mr Casey and his friend and colleague, Fr Michael Cleary, welcomed Pope John Paul II to Galway in 1979 at Ballybrit racecourse in front of a crowd of about 200,000.

The two priests kept the crowd entertained by singing as they waited for the Pope.

It later emerged that Mr Cleary had fathered two sons.

After his resignation as Bishop of Galway, Mr Casey went on the missions to South America and worked in a rural parish in Ecuador.

Then, instead of coming home to Ireland, he went to the parish of St Paul's at Haywards Heath in south-east England. He finally returned to Ireland in 2005.

His health deteriorated and in August 2011 he was admitted to a nursing home in Co Clare.

He suffered several mini-strokes which affected his memory.

Mr Casey died at the nursing home at the age of 89.

In 2013, Peter spoke about his joy at being reunited with his father for the first time in almost a decade.

Mr Casey at this point was 86 and suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

"I feel incredibly lucky I got to see him again. I was very happy to see him and very happy he was as with us as he was," Peter said afterwards.

"We were able to talk again. You can't help but feel something like this coming out of the blue was meant to be. It was great."

Peter said he was proud of his dad. He was highly critical of the Church's treatment of his father.

Mr Casey eventually made a public statement about his affair with Ms Murphy.

He admitted he was Peter's father and that he had wronged both Peter and Annie.

On his return to Ireland he admitted he had let them both down and also let down the people, his priests and his colleagues. "I am very sorry about this. I left a shadow over them all," he said.

Mr Casey's family yesterday released a statement thanking people who had supported him through the years and the staff who cared for him at the Carrigoran Nursing Home in Co Clare in his latter years.

Tributes flowed yesterday as people recognised his tireless humanitarian work and support of the downtrodden. Bishop Casey left his mark on the Church and the country.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News