Sunday 22 October 2017

I'm sorry, please forgive me

In November 1993, the Sunday Tribune published this profile of Bishop Eamon Casey by journalist Veronica Guerin. This edited version is republished today as part of a series of articles - 'Remembering Veronica' - To commemorate the anniversary of her death 20 years ago this month

Bishop Eamon Casey outside his family home in Firies, near Killarney, in 1969 Photo: Donal MacMonagle
Bishop Eamon Casey outside his family home in Firies, near Killarney, in 1969 Photo: Donal MacMonagle

Veronica Guerin

In a series of interviews, Bishop Eamon Casey has told how he became infatuated with Annie Murphy but was told only shortly before the birth of their son that he was the father.

These interviews arose from contacts made with Bishop Casey when he telephoned the Sunday Tribune on Saturday, April 10, to deny that he had given an interview to the Sunday Independent.

Son: Annie Murphy and Peter
Son: Annie Murphy and Peter

He was subsequently requested by letter to give an interview, and he replied, saying that it was not app- ropriate for him to do that then, given personal commitments.

In September, this reporter went to Ecuador and delivered a letter to where Bishop Casey was staying.

The bishop subsequently made contact and several meetings and discussions took place and he finally agreed to do the interviews.

In accordance with the undertaking given to Bishop Casey, the text of the interviews was submitted to him for him to confirm that he was being quoted correctly.

He made a number of changes to the text, many of them correcting misinterpretations and others changing the substance of his responses.

At no stage did he insist that questions asked be withdrawn or that the scope of the interviews be restricted, although he did refuse to answer a number of questions related to his personal life and intimacies between himself and Annie Murphy.

On a number of occasions Bishop Casey was accompanied by priest friends during the interviews and discussions. He asked that the location where the interviews took place not be disclosed.

"I feel I let down Annie, Peter, the people, my priests and my colleagues and I am very, very sorry about this. I left a shadow over them all. Of course I let them down, very much so," said Bishop Eamon Casey in the last minutes of a series of interviews that took place over several days.

Asked what he would say to Catholics who felt ashamed by what he did, he replied: "I'm sorry, please forgive me.

"I believe that forgiveness is a growing experience but, as I see it, what happens when you sin is that you frustrate God's design in you and that is what I did.

"Forgiveness for me means that God, who is the source of all life, is always life-giving and love-healing and, in spite of our failings, helps us become what he created us to be."

Asked what he felt about the whole affair now, he said: "I regret it deeply and I'm deeply sorry, but since I know that God has forgiven me I feel I can say that the trauma of the last two years has been a very, very positive growing experience. I find that I have a much greater serenity in my life."

He refused to talk about his relationship now with his son, Peter, beyond saying: "Peter and I are meeting and hope to develop a good relationship, out of the eyes of the media, with privacy."

Asked if he felt guilty over having missed 18 years of his son's life, he replied: "I do, of course, but there were reasons for which that couldn't happen out of my control, and now that the opportunity is there I'm taking it and I'm determined that I'm going to try to do what is right before God and for Peter."

Asked if he had any contact with Annie Murphy since the publication of her book, he replied: "No."

Asked if he still loved her, he replied: "That is a very personal question and I am not prepared to answer it."

Asked if there was any possibility that he and she would end up together, he replied: "None."

Asked if he intended coming back to Ireland, he said: "Of course I do, when my present commitments allow." Later in the interview, he said that "unquestionably" he saw the day when he would return to Ireland. "Nobody is stopping me from going home, but I don't wish to go until I can go back out of the glare of publicity and be allowed to be myself."

Asked if this would be soon, he said: "It has to be, I am not getting younger."

Asked if he would like to be a bishop in Ireland again, he said: "No. It is a great thing in life at the age of 66 to be able to start out in life again. Not everybody gets that opportunity and I intend to work hard at it."

Was he happy with his life now: "Yes. Basically, what you are asking me is am I contented; well, yes, I am, because I feel fulfilled and challenged by my ministry in Ecuador."

Asked how his family have reacted, he said: "They have been very, very good, totally understood. From the beginning they have supported me, came out to the States to see me, every step I took and every place I called they were there to love, to receive and support me."

Asked finally how he thought his deeply religious father would have reacted to the whole affair, he broke down and was very emotional. "He would have been deeply, deeply hurt. He was a very religious man, a very traditional person," he said.

Would his father have understood? "Well, I'd have to say this. I found he understood things in life that I didn't think he would. You never know the resources of people."

Would his mother have understood? "Oh, she would certainly have understood. I saw my mother in circumstances that were new to her, strange to her and I was amazed at the serenity with which she coped. As I've said, people have resources that we are not aware of. But I have no doubt that they would have been very, very hurt."

Eamon Casey was born in Firies, near Farranfore, Co Kerry, on April 23, 1927. His father, John Casey, came from Ballingarry, Co Limerick, and his mother, Helena Shanahan, from Castleisland. They met when John Casey went to work as a creamery manager in Castleisland, and on marrying in 1920 they went to live near Farranfore until 1932. In 1932, John Casey was appointed managing director of the creamery in Adare, Co Limerick, and the family moved there. Eamon Casey was five at the time.

"There were 10 in the family - I came in the middle. Four sisters were the oldest - Kitty, Patsy, Helen and Nuala. Then came Michael and then myself. After me there was John, Ita, Tim and Seamus.

The house they lived in in Firies was over the creamery. The home in Adare was designed by his mother and was built specially for the Casey family at a cost of £1,000.

Eamon Casey recalls: "There was a long living room on the front, with folding doors into a dining room, which meant that when we had parties in the house there was lots of room.

"My childhood memories are almost uniformly happy. Every Sunday we went for a drive in the family car. We usually said the rosary during the drive and then had a sing-song with a new song being introduced every week.

"My father was a disciplinarian but was not over-strict. He worked entirely for the welfare of us children, never taking a holiday. When the rest of the family went to Ballybunion every July, he stayed and worked through his holidays to earn extra money. He had a deep, deep faith. He went to Mass every day, and I remember him walking around the back yard of our house in Adare each evening, saying his prayers."

Asked if he had any girlfriends at the time, he said: "Not in the strict sense. We used to go around in groups. There was never an occ-asion where I would go out with a girl on a one-to-one situation."

He said he was closest to his mother while growing up. "I used to tell her everything. When I would come in at night I would always go up to her room, sit at the end of the bed and tell her about my day.

"My mother and father were very close, although closeness in the terms of those days might not be considered such today. My mother made all the important decisions, although my father believed that he did. She knew well how to get around him.

"She was a very gentle, quiet person. She spent most of 20 years intermittently in hospital in Dublin, suffering from a blood irregularity. When she was in hospital, every Sunday morning we would get up around five o'clock to drive to Dublin, which, in the cars of those days, was quite an undertaking from Adare. We would spend a few hours with her in the hospital ward.

"Many times we thought she was dying, fading away. I remember her coming home one Christmas and my father carrying her into the house in his arms. We thought then she would not last long. Ironically, the last 10 years of her life were the healthiest."

Eamon Casey's first school was the national school in Firies. When the family moved to Adare, he began attending the local Christian Brothers school.

He believed at an early age that he wanted to be a priest. "My father arranged for one of my brothers and I to go to Blackrock College [in Dublin] because we could not do the Leaving Certificate at Adare - he had done a deal at a reduced rate - but one evening when I was playing hurling in the back garden he came out to say that Fr Jim Culhane, the local priest, had arranged for me to go to St Munchin's College [the Limerick diocesan secondary school]. I said that was fine: whatever Fr Culhane had arranged, I would have gone along with.

"Fr Culhane had looked after my mother when she was ill. He used to visit her and bring her communion and afterwards she was so peaceful, so serene and happy after his visits. When you see someone make such an impression on a person you love, it leaves an impact. Observing this gave me the first inklings of my vocation.

"There were other factors that influenced me to become a priest myself, such as serving at the altar, being around priests, reading the lives of the saints, but it was Fr Jim Culhane's extraordinary calming, serene effect on my mother that was the most telling factor, I think."

He finally decided to study for the priesthood when he was 17 or 18. There were 50 students in his class when he first went to Maynooth in 1944. About a quarter of these left before ordination.

"The regime in Maynooth was very strict at the time. We rose at 6am, washed, shaved, dressed, made the bed and swept out the room. Then there was meditation from 6.30am to 7am and then Mass. Breakfast was at 7.45am and classes started at 9.30am and went on until noon. There was lunch at 12.15pm, classes again afterwards for two hours and dinner at 3pm. There was recreation after dinner until 5pm and then there was study until 7pm. Spiritual reading from 7pm to 7.30pm, supper at 7.30pm, recreation again after supper for half-an-hour, study until 10pm night prayers and lights out at 10.30pm.

"This was day after day after day, without ever setting your foot outside the four walls."

Philosophy was his favourite subject at Maynooth. He started to study it because of a special bursary that was available for philosophy students from the diocese of Limerick. "Philosophy teaches you to think conceptually, it permeates everything you do. It helps you to think logically."

Asked if the issue of sexuality was spoken of or discussed at the time, he replied: "Minimally. This is not a criticism of Maynooth, but there should have been far more done to help students deal with their sexuality. This does not justify anything I did in my life - that is not the point. The attitude was that if you kept far away from women and said your prayers, you won't have a problem. There was no awareness that the feminine influence on one's life is quite positive."

Asked if celibacy was a factor in his consideration of becoming a priest, he said: "Celibacy was unquestionably a factor. Two to three times in my seven years at Maynooth it became very much a factor and I had to engage in seri-ous counselling sessions. There were no girls involved at the time."

What were his happiest times in Maynooth? "While Maynooth was very strict, I always enjoyed it as there was great camaraderie there. There was never any sense of being lonely. But perhaps most of all I considered Maynooth as the instrument by which I was going to be moulded into the kind of person a priest needed to be.

"I was a very different person then to what I am now. My classmates can't believe I am the same person. That time you wouldn't hear me over a clothes line.

"I worked hard and I was involved in lots of things - setting up the philosophical society, different organisations. But I was not high-profile by any manner or means and I would not have been noticed in my class."

He recalls his ordination in 1951 as being marked by a sense of achievement. "Everything that we had done and sacrificed for seven years was for that moment. Seven years of striving. It wasn't just what you were achieving but what you understood was happening. There was a deep, deep sense of mystery."

The then Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, was the ordaining bishop.

"My parents were very proud, very happy. I managed to get tickets for all my brothers and sisters for the ordination ceremony, thanks to the generosity of classmates who made surplus tickets available to me - only three tickets were usually allocated per person."

He was ordained for the Limerick diocese. He said his first Mass at home in Adare and was appointed as curate to the parish of Corbally and Monalee. He also did 24 hours each week teaching in the local vocational school. After four years he was transferred to the Cathedral parish in Limerick.

During his time as a curate in Limerick, what shocked him most was his involvement in the exposure of a homosexual ring in the city - young boys were being made available to homosexuals through a local group. He brought the matter to the attention of the then bishop, who called in the gardai.

"It was a rude awakening for me about the type of society in which we lived."

He got involved with Irish emigrants in England, initially through his parish work in Limerick. On his visitations he noted that people had emigrated to England from almost every house. He started to write to these emigrants and he then devoted some of his holidays to visiting them in England.

Shortly afterwards, he was moved to Slough, outside London, to start work with the huge number of Irish emigrants living in the area.

"I found some Irish people living in appalling housing conditions. Two to three families living in a few rooms between them, sharing the same bathrooms, toilets, kitchen and washing area. The smell in some of these abodes was appalling. I knew I just had to do something, because I define homeless as any family living in conditions where they can't have normal family life.

"I realised that the way to help them was to assist them in buying their own homes. To this end I developed several schemes, such as a bank loan scheme, a mortgage scheme and a halfway house scheme, whereby couples and their families who had been rejected for public authority housing could buy their own homes."

He says he was happy in London, except for one period during which he underwent a form of personal crisis. "I would hate for anything I say now to appear as a justification for the most publicised event of my life, but I think what happened was important.

"After about a year, I sometimes began to feel very uneasy at the end of the day. It had nothing to do with sexuality. I didn't know what it was. It wasn't that I was looking for female company or a sexual experience. But living entirely outside a community without the companionship of fellow priests and working outside pastoral work I think disoriented me during that time for a while.

"I think that celibacy requires community in two senses. Firstly, as a community to serve, to live and to be loved by. And secondly, in the sense of companionship. In London I had neither. I lived in a small room on my own. I said Mass every morning in a convent next door, but from then on I was working out of my office until one o'clock at night interviewing people, and in my room sometimes until two o'clock the following morning. I was dealing always with individual couples. It was not a community, and therefore I had neither companionship nor community.

"Fortunately, at the time I had two friends, Tom and Mary, who understood and welcomed me on these occasions. Afterwards, when I became a bishop, I ensured that whenever I assigned a priest to a specific task I also assigned him to pastoral work."

The first he heard about becom- ing a bishop was while he was giving a retreat for priests in Longford. Word came that Papal Nuncio Alibrandi wanted to speak to him urgently.

At this point during our interview, Eamon Casey broke down, as he had done at most of the mentions of members of his family.

The Papal Nuncio officiated at his consecration as bishop in the Cathedral in Killarney. Cardinal Heenan came over from London and preached during the service. Several others came over from London as well, many of them not Catholics. Stevie Coughlan, the veteran Labour TD from Limerick, arrived with a busload of his former parishioners. His entire family were present, too.

Asked about his recollections of the first meeting of the Catholic hierarchy that he attended, he laughed. "I have to say that in all my experience at sitting around broad tables at various meetings, I have never felt as fairly treated as at meetings of the hierarchy, but at that first meeting I had no idea of the formalities of the occasion. I had been used to sitting on boards where you were expected to contribute from the moment you arrive, so without the slightest hesitation or hesitancy I just talked whenever I thought I should. By lunchtime I had begun to realise that some of my colleagues were finding this strange.

"At lunchtime, one of the more experienced bishops sidled over to me in his quiet way and said: "Eam- on, forget the stares, everything you said was 'ad rem' [relevant]."

Asked if his fellow bishops were pleased or displeased by his appearances on The Late Late Show, he said: "I'd say they were very pleased that any bishop be given an opportunity to represent the Church in a positive way."

Asked if he agreed with the teaching of the Church on sexual matters, including contraception, he said: "One cannot simply reject certain teachings of the Church and accept others. If this were allowed, where would it stop?

"I believe wholly in the teachings of the Church on sexual matters, but I would equally have maintained that one has to work things through with people in individual circumstances.

"But if you are asking me, did I single out sexual morality as a major topic on which to preach or to write pastoral letters, no.

"I have found it easier to deal with the issue of contraception in a pastoral way or in the confessional rather than by making a public statement about it. Each year when I spoke to the students in Leaving Certificate class in the secondary schools, I did talk about the meaning of Christian love because I believe that much of modern culture and literature trivialises and debases the concept of love. In the context of talking about Christian love I would have spoken about sexuality."

Sunday Independent

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