Wednesday 18 October 2017

Profile: The larger than life Bishop at the centre of a scandal that rocked Ireland

Bishop Eamon Casey
Bishop Eamon Casey
Annie Murphy in Riverside, California, in 2012
Bishop Eamon Casey and Fr Michael Cleary during a special youth mass in Galway during the Pontiff's visit

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.

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.

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

 The two had a passionate affair which began in a holiday home used by Casey at Inch, Co Kerry. Murphy gave birth to Peter in Dublin in 1974.

In going public Murphy told her story to newspapers and also on RTE’s Late Late show.

She claimed that 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 the help of her parents.

Although Casey made payments towards Peter’s upbringing, 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.

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 £70,000 had been taken from a Galway Diocesan Fund on his instruction and paid to Murphy.

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

Annie Murphy wrote a book about her relationship with Casey in 1993 called Forbidden Fruit

Eamon Casey was born in Firies in Co Kerry on April 23th 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.

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.

He was appointed curate to the parish of Corbally and Monalee and then transferred to Cathedral Parish in Limerick.

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.

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 Annie Murphy.

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

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.

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

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

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.

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 Cleary had fathered two sons.

After his resignation as Bishop of Galway 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 Pauls at Haywards Heath in South East England.  He finally returned to Ireland in 2006.

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.  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.

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.

Casey eventually made a public statement about his affair with Annie 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.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News