Wednesday 21 March 2018

Media had a field day with the Casey scandal – but he didn't hold a grudge

Bishop Eamonn Casey Photo: Don MacMonagle
Bishop Eamonn Casey Photo: Don MacMonagle
Willie Kealy

Willie Kealy

For the Irish media, Eamonn Casey was the gift that just kept on giving. During his years as Bishop of Kerry and later, Bishop of Galway, he was almost a fixture on Gay Byrne's 'Late Late Show', bursting into the studio like a whirlwind and gleefully telling Gay that he had made it up from Kerry or across from Galway by driving at unbelievable speeds in his powerful BMW, in less time than many Dublin commuters took to get home.

But Gay could never have guessed that Bishop Casey would be responsible for one of the most talked-about 'Late Lates' ever. A young American woman called Annie Murphy came on to tell the world about her sexual affair with the bishop, which produced a son, Peter. She said they had kept the affair a secret for 18 years until the bishop's son (with whom he later reconciled) came of age and was unwilling to continue the subterfuge. By then, of course, Bishop Casey had fled to South America via Rome where he handed the Pope his resignation, ahead of the story breaking in the media. He had been a fan of the Liberation Theology of that sub-continent, even refusing to meet Ronald Regan on the president's Irish visit because of US activities in Latin America.

In 1974, Annie Murphy was 25 and getting over a nasty divorce when her father, a distant cousin of Bishop Casey, sent her to stay with him. Bishop Casey was, as they say, larger than life and had the ego to go with it, but he was a great frontman for the Church and when Pope John Paul came to this country, Bishop Casey and Fr Michael Cleary (who also kept the secret of an affair for decades) were chosen to host the Pontiff in Knock.

Bishop Casey first made his name in the UK working for the homeless - he was chairman of the Shelter charity; and later, as a bishop, he was responsible for the establishment of Trócaire.

His prominence was not welcomed by all his fellow bishops, and when he fell from grace, there was very little Christian charity displayed towards him by his fellow princes of the Church.

He was banned for life from ever celebrating Mass in public again. Certainly they would have been happy if he had just disappeared forever, which he more or less tried to do, first in Ecuador and then in Mexico.

But he was too good a story to stay hidden for long and in 1992 the author and journalist Gordon Thomas approached the 'Sunday Independent' and said he believed he could find the bishop. Together with photographer Charlie Collins, and a friend of Bishop Casey's from Galway, they travelled to Cuernavaca in Mexico, where the friend arranged to meet the bishop. Instead, it was the journalist and the photographer waiting for Bishop Casey, who took to his heels.

Armed with their pictures and some of Bishop Casey's conversations with the friend, the pair returned to Ireland and their scoop was a sensation. But the bishop immediately complained and was at pains to say the fact that he was quoted throughout the story gave the impression he had volunteered to be interviewed. Amazingly, the runaway bishop managed to garner a certain amount of public sympathy. But the fact was that just finding him and getting the pictures was a brilliant scoop on it own.

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Always astute in dealing with the media, Bishop Casey then decided that he would give an interview and he was persuaded by Veronica Guerin that she should be the one to do it. Another great scoop and another gift to the Irish media.

But Eamonn Casey was not one to bear a grudge and some time later on a visit back to Ireland, he agreed to meet with a few of us from the 'Sunday Independent' - then-editor, the late Aengus Fanning, as well as Anne Harris and myself.

I think we expected recriminations but there were none.

He just wanted to put it on the record - and for us to accept - that he had not given an interview to Gordon Thomas, which we had no trouble accepting. But beyond that he was friendly and talkative. If he felt diminished in any way by all that had happened to him, he didn't show it. He now had a new life, a different life, but one that he seemed to accept and seemed determined to live to the full.

As the years went by, Bishop Casey faded from the headlines. And as horrendous scandal after scandal rocked the Irish Church, his failings achieved a kind of perspective. He was a victim of the rule of celibacy but, like Fr Cleary, he was also a hypocrite. That was his sin.

His crime was to lie and then to be found out in the lie. For that, he paid the price.

Irish Independent

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