Thursday 21 February 2019

A redemption of sorts: The trial of Bishop Casey at Court of Pearly Gates

'In the last few days I have met so many people who lived in England in the 1950s and 1960s. They spoke of how Bishop Casey built homes for the Irish in England. He built 600 houses in just two years.'
'In the last few days I have met so many people who lived in England in the 1950s and 1960s. They spoke of how Bishop Casey built homes for the Irish in England. He built 600 houses in just two years.'
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

Bishop Eamonn Casey was laid to rest in Galway on Thursday, but where will he end up? Let us imagine then we are sitting there in The Court of the Pearly Gates watching his case unfold. The case for the prosecution is strong.

There is no doubt but that Bishop Casey was a sinner. He pleads guilty. All that remains is the sentencing. Will it be Heaven or will it be Hell?

I know we could spend months discussing the definition of both. My view is simple enough. Heaven is peace. Hell really is hell, and the fire is in our heads.

The prosecutor is someone, like anyone, who believes if you sin, you should suffer the consequences. Bishop Casey's crimes, the prosecution say, are "dereliction of duty, cowardice, seduction, theft and turning his back on his own son".

Bishop Casey is defended by St Teresa of Avila. She's the saint who said we must "turn our wounds into wisdom".

The prosecutor lays out the case for Hell. "Bishop Casey took advantage of a vulnerable young woman. They made a baby. He turned his back on her and their son Peter. Bishop Casey tried to get the mother to put their baby up for adoption. Bishop Casey swapped swaddling clothes and baby grows for the purple robes of high office."

The trials at the gates of Heaven allow video evidence.

Peter speaks of a meeting in a lawyer's office. "He didn't want to talk to me. In hindsight I was the representation of the end of everything he worked for. Of course I took it incredibly personally. I ran down. Got the elevator. Tried to keep a stoic face. Saw my mom and burst into tears...you're 15, had questions. He didn't want to answer them. I felt slighted."

St Teresa sighs as her client fingers through his rosary beads.

"Yes he did wrong," pleads the saint. "Eamonn was a coward for a time but he was brave too."

The screen shows a cathedral in San Salvador. Archbishop Romero, who stood up for the oppressed, was murdered while saying Mass. At his funeral, soldiers opened fire, but Bishop Casey stayed among the dead and the dying, even though his life was in danger.

St Teresa speaks passionately in defence of her client. "Eamonn started Concern. Their wonderful work still goes on in places where babies die of hunger every day. He fought for the poor and the sick."

The prosecutor jumps in with a barb. "He didn't look after his own baby did he?"

Peter Murphy is recalled. "Did I form a relationship? Did I get to love the man? Sure. But in the end we were never father and son. We were two people that got to know each other. Him, very much in the twilight of his life. Me as a young adult."

The prosecutor interrupts again and states it took the defendant fully 15 years to get around to meeting his boy.

He asks Annie Murphy if she loved Bishop Casey. She replies "yes". Her lawyer says he was the love of her life. Did he ruin her life?

Peter speaks in defence of his father. "All he wanted to do was go home and say Mass. Was that so terrible? So no, especially with what has come across our eyes in the last 20, 17 years...all the paedophile scandals. To tell you the truth I felt this way from the get go. What did the guy do? He had an affair."

In the last few days I have met so many people who lived in England in the 1950s and 1960s. They spoke of how Bishop Casey built homes for the Irish in England. He built 600 houses in just two years. Father Kieran O'Shea, who was my dad's friend and worked with the emigrants as a young priest, tells of how Bishop Casey travelled to the work camps to meet the navvies.

"They loved him and he was great fun, full of energy." My dad was an emigrant in England so there's another declaration of interest. The Irish in England will not hear a bad word said about Bishop Casey.

It was the year Peter was born and Bishop Casey gave a speech to our Leaving Cert class. He was supposed to talk us into becoming priests but the reality was he talked us out of it. "Lads," he said. "I thought I'd never stick not being able to go with the women. It was nearly impossible." It was impossible. Bishop Casey was a victim of monstrous rules of celibacy.

Annie Murphy takes the stand again. Her pain is palpable. She cries not so much for who she is now but for the young girl of long ago and all she went through. She is happy now though and has found love in LA. Bishop Casey cries too and says he is sorry and this must be a hell all in itself.

St Teresa makes the case that Bishop Casey has already served his sentence on earth. "He did penance for six years in Ecuador's San Miguel de Los Bancos, a small town full of the poor and vanquished."

Patsy McGarry surprised him. He is a journalist and told of how Bishop Casey went to get water to baptise a child who was dying in the church.

St Teresa speaks of how it was his flock loved him in San Miguel de Los Bancos. He lived modestly and his health suffered. There were no cameras, no adulation. He made sure what happened in Ecuador stayed in Ecuador.

The saint and the sinner call Father O'Shea who knew Bishop Casey better than most.

"He was lonely for home but there was never any self-pity. And he prayed for Peter and Annie. He learnt humility among the poorest of the poor in Ecuador, Bishop Casey found a redemption of sorts but I wonder if he ever really forgave himself."

The case closes. It's judgment day.

You have the evidence before you. The decision is yours.

Irish Independent

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