Saturday 27 August 2016

Annie Murphy: The woman who rocked the church - 20 years on

When Eamon picked me up from the airport that day in 1973, a light went on, there was a spark, that was it ... he was electric.Annie Murphy, whose torrid love affair with Bishop Eamon Casey shocked Ireland 20 years ago, speaks to Catherine Murphy of their son Peter, the new man in her life -- and the legacy of those days

Catherine Murphy

Published 29/01/2012 | 06:00

Annie Murphy
Annie Murphy

When I meet her, she's about to leave home on an errand. She's wearing black tennis shoes, turned-up chinos, an old black coat and a tall straw hat that covers the curlers in her hair.

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My first impression is of some sort of wren-boy-meets-bag-lady.

There's no hint of the woman who, 20 years ago, scandalised Catholic Ireland with her tale of forbidden love and broken rules.

That woman re-emerges a few hours later when we ask if she'll have her photo taken.

The curly hair is shaken out, a scarf is knotted simply around her neck, a streak of pink lipstick goes on and there she is: Annie Murphy, the attractive American divorcee who, in 1992, exposed Bishop Eamon Casey as the father of her son Peter, marking what many still see as the first big scandal to hit the Catholic Church in Ireland.

It's a scandal that now seems innocuous in light of the numerous cases of clerical child abuse that subsequently emerged.

Peter McKay, the New York criminal lawyer who negotiated a $150,000 settlement for Annie from Bishop Casey in 1990 and the deal for her 1993 book -- 'Forbidden Fruit: The True Story of My Secret Love for the Bishop of Galway' -- has told me it will be hard not to like her.

She is, he says, a mix of New England intellect and sharp Irish wit inherited from Irish grandparents, with a lively, original mind, a gregarious nature and charm.

McKay hasn't set eyes on her for decades but he has hit the nail on the head.

Her natural wit and turn of phrase must have impressed Bishop Casey when he met her in 1973, fresh off the plane from a miscarriage, a divorce and a messed-up childhood, all bundled up into an attractive 25-year-old package that had been sent to Ireland by her father to recover from her life so far.

A second cousin once removed from Bishop Casey, Annie had previously met him when she was a seven-year-old girl and he a young priest.

Now, I have travelled to southern California, within 100 miles of the Mexican border, to see if Annie will break the long silence on her affair with Bishop Casey.

In April, it will be 20 years since she revealed that the successful, powerful, larger-than-life bishop had fathered her son and had, for 18 years, been making payments to her, some with money from diocesan funds.

Annie was vilified for her actions, most notably on 'The Late Late Show' in 1993 but also on 'The Phil Donahue Show' in America.

Bishop Casey's faithful followers couldn't forgive her -- following the scandal, he had to resign and live in exile in Central America before eventually returning to Ireland in 2006.

I expect her to be cold, threatened, perhaps even aggressive, but she is none of those things. It's like turning up on a friendly aunt's doorstep. There's no big deal.

"You've come all this way," she says. "Come in. Let me tidy up a bit, let me get you a drink, you must be tired after your journey".

She had been out to pick up her 1993 Ford Escort wagon from the garage. If the car had been at home, she says, she might have escaped in it to avoid talking to me, but c'est la vie, you're here now, let's talk.

Previous media reports of Annie's new life in picket-fenced Californian suburbia prove inaccurate. I meet her standing on the doorstep of the mobile home she shares with her partner, artist Thaddeus Heinchon, whom she met 14 years ago through her sister Mary.

They have been together for 12 years. Their home now is a trailer park situated right next to a noisy freeway in a sunny, smoggy town east of LA. Mobile homes, or coaches, as they call them, sell for $50,000-$64,000 in this small, well-kept park with its lemon and orange trees.

Annie moved here with Thaddeus almost seven years ago to escape the cold, snowy Connecticut winters and because Thaddeus has relations nearby.

If they had moved two years later, she says, they could have picked up a foreclosure for a good price.

Of course, it's not the best place to have landed -- they would like to live somewhere a bit better, and Thaddeus would like to live in a house, but it's fine, it's okay.

At 63, Annie says she has found a tremendous sense of peace here; she says she is the happiest she has ever been in her life.

The neighbours don't know that the woman in the straw hat once had a scandalous affair with a Catholic bishop and, even if they did, they probably wouldn't care.

She welcomes me into a small, basic living room. The green carpet doesn't match the pale-blue curtains, which are constantly drawn.

There's a sense that none of that stuff really matters. Getting through each day calmly and happily is more important.

Annie talks instantly about her health problems: arthritis in her hands from years of working as a temp typing 110 words a minute; fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue, a sleep disorder.

She's had a repeat of the curable basal-cell carcinoma, which previously attacked her nose, and talks about a mysterious illness in her 50s which saw her lose 30lbs, some of her memory and "the ability to do things".

Perhaps it was a light stroke, she thinks, although it was never diagnosed as such.

One of the effects, she says, was to turn her into a nicer, calmer person, perhaps the person she was always meant to be.

Shelves are stacked with old video cassettes and packets of potato chips. Walls are adorned with Thaddeus's art work: exotic landscapes and nude drawings.

It's a million miles from Inch beach and the summer house in Kerry where Annie and Bishop Casey embarked on an 18-month affair.

It's a simpler, more secluded life. They run errands and go to the local cafés and art galleries. For the next two hours, we skim over the surface of her life, her past.

How, I ask her, does it all seem now, almost 40 years after she began a relationship with a man who was a bishop?

"It seems surreal," she says. "Like another world, as earlier events often do once you get older.

"When Eamon picked me up from the airport that day in 1973, a light went on, there was a spark, that was it. It was as if you believe in reincarnation and we had just picked up from a previous life, as if I had known him all my life.

"I had never known anything like that or known anyone like Eamon," she explains. "He was electric, he drove like a lunatic but I didn't feel unsafe, although I gave him a very hard time over it."

Annie describes the bishop as "a show man".

"He wasn't shy in talking about the things he was good at. He used to say he was an excellent dancer, that his dream was to go to Hollywood and make Fred Astaire look silly," she says.

"Maybe he was kidding about that, but he used to say that, 'You know I'm an excellent dancer Annie, I could make Astaire look silly'.

"With Eamon, it was collar on, collar off," she explains. "That's how he detached himself from the situation.

Some of the most tawdry aspects of their affair involved late-night trips to a Dublin quarry to have sex after Annie had moved to the capital. Bishop Casey all the time worried that the Garda would find him with his pants around his ankles.

There were tales of canoodling in the back of cars while close associates of the bishop sat in the front.

There was the strong pressure that he exerted on Annie to have her child adopted when she got pregnant six months into the affair; his assertion that as an unwed mother, she was in no fit state to look after a child; the denial that he was the father.

"Looking back on it, and I probably shouldn't say this about a bishop, but I felt Eamon was ripe to jump out, he wanted it," says Annie.

"The Church was his cornerstone. He loved people and helping people and he had no regrets about being in the priesthood, but, all the same, he wanted it.

"I never met anyone so stubborn in all my life," she continues. "Eamon did a lot of good, but he was incredibly stubborn -- he wouldn't meet you half way. He was able to separate parts of his life, his indoctrination as a priest was strong."

Annie says that she was different back then. "I was carrying a lot of baggage and if Eamon was going to get caught up in that baggage, he was going to get into trouble.

"Let's be honest, this was about someone who was pissed off. I was a lunatic at times. I had a streak of anger in me like a streak down a skunk's back; I had anger and resentments.

"That anger was usually quiet but when it went off, it was explosive. At some point, something lights the flame on that anger and you go out on a limb, you burn the tree and the limbs and anyone who's up there with you," she continues.

"In those days, if I had to stand you down, I wouldn't be able to stop -- I would walk into hell with you."

Annie admits that she had a bad temper. "I was probably pre-disposed to anger through growing up with an alcoholic mother. I didn't have a good relationship with her. She was nasty. She didn't mean it -- it was the alcohol."

The youngest of four children, Annie describes growing up in an idyllic rural landscape. Her father was a doctor and the family had 50 acres of land in Reading, Connecticut.

There were stables, barn parties, friends and family all around. Then it began to evaporate: her grandparents died, her brothers Johnny and Peter went off to college, her older sister, Mary, was sent to a private school run by nuns.

Her mother, who was 41 when she had Annie, began drinking heavily.

"It was a lonely place with no relatives around and by the time I was 10, she was well on her way to being an alcoholic," Annie recalls.

"I had to calm her down, revive her, watch her. Our land had a lake and a swamp -- she could go out the door and fall in there and no one would ever know".

By the time she met Bishop Casey, there was a bitterness in Annie about Catholicism, mixed with the feeling that she had been let down by the family she loved. It wasn't a good combination.

"I was brought up in a Catholic family," she says, "but I grew up in a Protestant town where people didn't carry around that Catholic guilt, so without my relatives around I lost that feeling for Catholicism.

"My father had a tremendous faith, he used to say the rosary each day. My mother just had a tremendous fear: she loved the saints and the Virgin Mary, she had statues around the house, but she used to say she would burn in hell for taking birth control.

"Later," says Annie, "she said Catholicism was nonsense, that when you die, you die; nobody had ever come back to talk about the afterlife.

Annie feels that Catholicism left the family. "I think we were a bunch of atheists. Peter is an atheist, or at least he wonders -- he was brought up to think like that by my mother.

"As a very young child, I had this vision of burning in hell that scared the hell out of me. I started playing with matches because I wanted to know what it would be like to burn in hell.

"I thought Catholicism was all lop-sided; in first grade, I told a nun it was nonsense," she says. "So when I met Eamon, I had no sensitivity towards his role as a Bishop -- I couldn't see the big deal."

In her book, Annie wrote that if you tasted wickedness and could endure the shame of it, it became like a drug that you wanted more and more of.

"If the Church told you something was so bad, I figured there had to be something very good about it. I was the kind of person who had to find out why it was so bad.

"Yes, I think there was something slightly bad in me at that time. Something wasn't right. There was an element of wickedness. I did want to test, to challenge Catholicism.

"Eamon used to read religious books to me, which didn't make sense -- he knew I had left the Church at 17," she adds.

At the time that her book was published, Annie's then partner Arthur Pennell said she was still in love with Bishop Casey, that she would marry him in a flash, even almost 20 years after the affair had ended.

"Every time she met Casey, even in the early 1990s," says lawyer Peter McKay, "it was like going right back to the start for Annie; nothing had changed between them.

"Two things were clear to me at that time: that Annie Murphy was telling the truth about her affair with Eamon Casey, and that he was a big love; the love of her life."

Notwithstanding the fact that she has a partner whom she clearly loves, I ask Annie if she still loves Eamon Casey, still has feelings for him. "No," she says. "That's gone, that's in the past."

Often, her sentences trail off, as if trailing into that past.

"If we had stayed together somehow, it would have burned out or we would have torn each apart. He would have to have been owned by too many people and I don't think I would have been good at dealing with that.

"I'm with a man now who's kind and who loves me. I think that if I had met Thad when I was 18, I wouldn't have let him go."

Annie feels that Thaddeus would have fitted in well with her family.

"He looks a bit like my father and my father would have adored him.

Did she love Eamon Casey, I ask her. "Yes."

Did he love her? "I think Eamon liked me a lot. We had a lot of fun together".

All these years later, it doesn't quite sound like big enduring love and she shows no sadness when talking about the bishop, no hint of longing.

If anything, there's a tiny flash of mischief in her eyes when she says: "Eamon is in a nursing home, you know -- he got dementia. The last time Peter rang him up, he said, 'Who are you?'

When Peter replied, 'It's your son', he said, 'How dare you, I don't have a son, don't be ridiculous!' His mind is back in the seminary now."

Bishop Casey was admitted to a nursing home in Co Clare in August 2011 and is said by one old friend to be happy and doing well.

Now aged 84, he is thought to have suffered a series of strokes. Unofficially retired from the Church, he lived in rural Galway following his return to Ireland in the mid-Noughties, but has never realised his dream of saying Mass again.

The only time Annie's eyes seem to well up is when she talks about Arthur Pennell, her partner at the time of the revelations of her affair.

More than 20 years her senior, they broke up after her book was published and he has since passed away.

"We don't really know what happened to Arthur," she says. "When we split up, I got him a place in Florida. I sent him money, but then we didn't know where he was. He died."

The pair met at an AA meeting when Annie's son Peter was a young child and they were together for well over a decade.

From reading her book, it seems clear that Arthur, a Second World War veteran, was instrumental in revealing the affair.

"Arthur was an unusual man," she says. "He was part Scottish, part American-Indian. He was a carpenter by trade but should have been a lawyer -- he knew the law back to front and front to back."

By 1990, when Annie enlisted Peter McKay to seek a financial settlement from Bishop Casey, pressure was coming from all angles.

"I wanted Eamon to know his son. By then, Peter was 16; he also wanted his father to acknowledge him. He had known Eamon was his father from the age of nine or 10 -- my mother told him.

"Arthur was irascible but he loved Peter like his own son -- he thought he was a decent, kind boy and that mattered to him," she says.

Of the revelations, Annie says: "For Arthur, it was about righting a wrong. It was also about class warfare -- he was a poor man who worked for the wealthy. He said Eamon Casey was the 'have', I was the 'have-not' and that it wasn't right. He wouldn't let it go.

"He went to see Eamon in Ireland. When he came back, he said I had to take Eamon on, that I would have trouble with him -- he was impenetrable, not a bad man, but not able to move from his position".

There was also big financial pressure. Annie and Arthur had invested in a number of properties and lost their shirts on one.

By April 1992, when Annie had looked for more money from Bishop Casey and informed her attorney that she was going to expose him, the bailiffs were at the door.

The rest is history. Annie and Arthur contacted an Irish newspaper with details of the affair. In May 1992, Bishop Casey resigned and fled the country.

He would later admit that he was the father of Peter Murphy and apologise for the great wrong he had done him and Annie.

Annie famously appeared on 'The Late Late Show' in the spring of 1993, following publication of her book. It was a career-defining moment for Gay Byrne, who said to her: "If Peter is half the man his father is, he'll be doing well."

She recalls her reaction. "I simply replied, 'Well, Mr Byrne, I'm not half bad myself'. Then I said good day and left the set. There was nothing more to say after that, we couldn't get nasty on public television.

"Also, it meant I got to have the last word, which I wanted. After the show, Mr Byrne apologised for being hard on me, but it didn't matter -- I wasn't angry.

"I told him I had nothing more to say to him -- there was no problem, we had both won. I think Mr Byrne had read the book and thought it was over the top. Also, he liked Eamon Casey," she adds.

Peter McKay recalls Annie's mood as "elated" following her 'Late Late' show appearance.

"There was so much trepidation about going on an Irish chat show to face the Irish public and prove that her story was true.

"After that show, I think people who previously didn't believe her story found it credible. Gay Byrne apologised to us after the programme, but there was nothing to apologise for -- he had his finger on the pulse of Irish opinion."

If anything, Annie says, 'The Late Late Show' grilling was mild compared with the hostile reaction she received on 'The Phil Donahue Show'.

"I thought I was going to be attacked," she says. "But that's okay, that show toughened me up. I think I had a lot of ego mixed with an inferiority complex and that show shot down my ego.

"In a way, it brought me to my senses. I had gone through the whole process of exposing my relationship with Eamon and of writing the book with Peter de Rosa, and after that show, if I could have walked away from the whole thing I would have, but it was too late. It was all out there.

"Someone in the audience said I was doing great harm to others and I remembered that was one of the things my father had brought me up with: 'First, do no harm to others.' I suddenly thought I was doing a lot of harm to a lot of people," she says.

Does she regret exposing the bishop?

"Sure, I regret exposing Eamon because I realise that we are all fragile. Each and every one of us has some fragility, even Eamon, who was the most stubborn man I ever met in my life. Many things that I did at that point in my life were wrong. I took justice into my own hands and I regret that because two wrongs don't make a right.

"The Catholic Church was Eamon's cornerstone and that was taken away from him. Later, I told Peter to read some books about Catholicism. He came back and said that Catholicism was a heavy-duty trip and that Eamon didn't deserve to have it taken away from him," she adds.

Peter de Rosa has said that Annie earned 250,000 Irish pounds from the book and she doesn't deny the figure.

"Yes, you look at the money but, in the end, I didn't look that much at the money. I felt crappy after the whole thing. It didn't sit well with me. I felt I had said too much, that I should have been more careful.

"When you get money like that, it makes you feel dirty, you want to get rid of it. I gave a lot of it to Peter. I gave some to Arthur and I kept about £100,000. But I didn't do anything useful with it, I didn't buy a home with it or anything," she explains.

As for book, Annie is philosophical. "I can't disown the book, it's my book and I take responsibility for it. In ways it was good, I think it opened the door for more stuff to come out afterwards.

"But sex sells, the publishers had paid a lot of money for it, what were they going to do? In the end, I think they thought it would sell far better than it did, but other things came along."

There was an inevitable fallout from the book -- people fell out. Annie's relationship with Arthur Pennell ended in 1994, and she sued lawyer Peter McKay on the grounds (he says) that he had not succeeded in getting a film deal.

He counter-sued and the pair settled their case in 1995.

"Things got messed up," Annie says. "There were problems that had to be sorted. If the book was going to be turned into a film, it had to be toned down.

"I was tired of other people controlling the thing, it had to be cleared out, shut down".

And so it was -- no film was ever made. In 2000, a US company talked about making a mini-series, but nothing came of it.

And what of Peter Murphy, the now 37-year-old son that Bishop Casey denied for 18 years?

Much was made of Annie's devotion to her son and of the fact that she wanted money only to educate him. In a way, Peter also suffered a fallout from the revelations, which were made just as he was beginning university.

A bright, intelligent young man, he studied political science at the University of Connecticut between 1992 and 1994, but he didn't complete his degree.

He now works as a salesman for an electronics company on the east coast. He is single and hasn't seen his mother for four years, although she says she will visit him this summer.

"We tried to get Peter to move to California," she says, "but it was so expensive, of course, less so now. We've begged him to come visit, but he works so much and things are bad right now. You don't mess around with your job.

"He doesn't pick up the phone for much -- he's a 'see you when I see you' kind of guy. He was very interested in law, but he went to college just as the whole story came out; he became a kind of celebrity," she says.

Annie says that Peter went from living at home as an only child to attending a university for partying, so he became a bit of a party animal. "He checked his mind in and went and had lots of fun.

"Not any more, he shut that down a while back. He's rather serious now, straight as an arrow. He was with someone for four or five years, but he's single now."

There had been rumours that Peter's eyesight was failing. In fact, Annie says he was blinded in one eye five years ago in a freak accident.

"Peter used to wait tables at night. One night he was walking home from work with a friend. Someone let off a firecracker, Peter turned to talk to his friend and got it in the eye. He lost the sight in one eye.

"He doesn't talk about it because he gets annoyed if you get upset. He's a very positive person -- in that sense, he has a lot of Casey blood in him. He accepts it."

Despite not having seen Peter for so long, she denies that there is any rift between them. "Maybe he resented me a little bit over what happened when he was younger. He used to say I was a lunatic, that I went out and did things with no scaffolding or safety net. But no, there's no problem between us, we never fight, we love each other".

Annie describes her son's looks and personality. "He doesn't look exactly like Eamon, he still has his hair. But he looks like a Casey. He's 6ft 1in and gets his height from my father, but he has Eamon's mouth, the jowls and all.

"He's wonderful with people, he has a brilliant sense of humour," she continues. "He loves to laugh, loves to live -- he gets that from Eamon.

"He's very gregarious but a bit of a loner underneath it all, very private. He's very nice, but he can also be cold. You don't want to push him too much. He's like a lawyer -- he'll say 'give me a good reason to do something and I'll do it', but he'll let a growl at you if he doesn't want to do something.

Annie feels that Bishop Casey missed out on parenting. "Eamon never realised the real joy of being a father -- it didn't get to that level, but there was a bond between them, very much, and they did get to know each other."

Once a year, Eamon would go to Boston on business and used to spend a day with Peter. "I would say they met maybe six times like that. Peter is a great cook and Eamon used to say, 'right, no more restaurants, in future I'm just eating here'.

"They had fun together. Peter thought Eamon was very smart, like lightning, and Eamon liked Peter very much. I didn't get too involved in their meetings -- if Peter wanted to tell me about it, he did and I let it go like that.

"I know he was pleased to have the chance to get to know Eamon, to know that he has a lot in common with him, to know about his family," she adds.

The last time Annie spoke to Bishop Casey was three years ago. "Peter wanted to visit Eamon in Ireland, but Eamon said there's no way he could do that, the press would descend on us.

"He told me, 'Please tell Peter not to be hurt, Annie, but I just can't do this'.

"Eamon still wanted to say Mass -- it was the thing he wanted most of all. So Peter didn't visit him in Ireland, then Eamon got ill and wasn't able to visit Boston."

When the bishop dies, would she travel to Ireland for his funeral? A morbid question perhaps, but she answers firmly: "No. I don't think Eamon would want that. I would feel like an interloper. And anyway, I hate flying, how would I get there?"

I ask harder questions: how does she feel now about the fact that she and Bishop Casey were third cousins -- didn't it cross her mind at the time?

How does she feel about the fact that the bishop took money from his diocese to make payments to her over the years?

"Maybe that's a question for Eamon to answer," she says quietly. "I don't know, I can't go there. If those things come back to haunt me, I get fragile, I go into a depression. Things start to look dark and the smile goes away.

"I've found a little bit of sunshine here. And as far as earthly love goes, I'm the closest I've ever been to it with Thad and I have to hold on to that.

"Sometimes, the hardest thing in life is to forgive yourself," Annie adds. For his part, Thaddeus doesn't judge her.

"I was born outside marriage myself," he says, "so I can relate to that. Also, I don't think Annie did anything that bad. In ways, I think Annie was the victim in all that happened."

"Give my love to Ireland" are her last words to me, before going back into her mobile home and the quiet, calm life that's a million miles away from Inch beach in Co Kerry and a lifetime away from her affair with Bishop Eamon Casey almost 40 years ago.

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