Friday 14 December 2018

In celebrating Casey's downfall, we forgot he was just a man

I was overjoyed at the late bishop's humiliation, but in some ways he was just another victim of the Church

SCANDAL: Annie Murphy interviewed by Gay Byrne on ‘The Late Late Show’ where she revealed details of her relationship with Casey
SCANDAL: Annie Murphy interviewed by Gay Byrne on ‘The Late Late Show’ where she revealed details of her relationship with Casey
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

In 1992, when it emerged that the then bishop of Galway had a son, and that there was some unresolved issue around diocesan funds, naturally I rejoiced.

For much of the previous decade, there had been a cultural civil war going on in Ireland, and my side was losing. Divorce, abortion, homosexuality, contraception, these were supposedly the issues, but there was really just one, - the Church's assertion of its power over a people who were losing the faith, or at least not keeping it very well.

So yes, it was a truly marvellous day for Ireland when the bishop absconded, leaving behind him the most abysmal embarrassment. And there is no doubt that in the decisive battle of that civil war, the Divorce Referendum of 1995, the Casey scandal helped to deliver that terrifyingly thin victory of 50.28pc to 49.72pc for the "liberal agenda".

'Tis well I remember casting my vote in Dun Laoghaire, in a polling station full of blatantly obvious People of the Left, who were so desperate to stop losing these bloody things, they had actually made the effort to leave their tastefully furnished homes and to battle their way through quite bad weather on what should officially be named The Night They Drove Old Ireland Down.

In the years that followed, 49.72pc would be seen as the high water mark of a doomed way of life, but at the time it would make you get down on your knees and thank the Good Lord above - figuratively speaking of course - for the gift of Eamonn Casey, and his crazy kind of love.

High on the improbability of it all, therefore, it took me a long time to acknowledge that there was something about the monstering of Casey that didn't sit completely right with me. And no, I'm not talking about the fact that "next to the paedophile priests he was doing nothing".

CHARACTER: Eamonn Casey in recent years. Photo: Hany Marzouk
CHARACTER: Eamonn Casey in recent years. Photo: Hany Marzouk

I think we can set the bar a bit higher than that, for someone whose work with the poor in London in the 1960s would lead to the foundation of Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity which is still going today - a very decent thing to have in your back pages, even for a bishop with, shall we say, such a largeness of personality, he was subject of a Christy Moore song before the Annie Murphy scandal.

Nor is it the most extravagant compliment to prefer him on the whole to Fr Michael Cleary, in fact he was most unfortunate to be linked to 'Father Mick', just because they were the relief band for the Pope in Ballybrit, and because they were living double, treble, or even quadruple lives.

Interestingly, Casey knew about Cleary's "family", but he had not confided his own troubles in that regard to Father Mick, who, staying classy, went on Morning Ireland anyway when the Annie Murphy story broke, to give thanks that at least the bishop hadn't organised an abortion.

And, of course, unlike Casey, Father Mick got away it, adding one last layer of unacceptability to all of the others, completing the career of a disgraceful man who was knocking out low-rent cabaret albums while Casey was supporting the forces of liberation theology in Latin America and boycotting the visit of Ronald Reagan to Galway, one of the few times in modern history that anyone in Official Ireland made such a stand - no doubt President Michael D Higgins's attendance at Casey's funeral can be traced back to these times when the bishop was clearly aligned with the left on such matters, when they had both been Hot Press interviewees indeed.

That Casey interview, conducted in 1986 by Liam Mackey in the "palace" on Taylor's Hill, remains the definitive work on the man, not least for a passage in which Casey is grappling with various contradictions between Catholic teaching and real life, and Mackey describes it thus: "Here Bishop Casey fell suddenly silent, placed his hand over his mouth and seemed to both photographer Colm Henry and myself, to be on the verge of tears. After nearly 15 seconds, he broke the silence with an apology, before regaining his composure…"

At the time, his son, Peter, was about 12 years old. Casey is jolly enough by the end to be quoting his own line that "any clergyman who has more than four figures in the bank has lost the faith", but in that 15 seconds of silence we can sense his dread of the catastrophe that was coming.

And when it came, the side that kept losing that civil war was now winning;, but, ultimately, I feel that neither side can derive much satisfaction from the way that they dealt with the downfall of Eamonn Casey.

Ostracisation, condemnation, failing or just refusing to recognise the complexity of the individual, these were the ways of the Church, which was quite happy to facilitate the disappearance of Casey into the wilds of South America. But they became our ways, too, and we should have known better.

So there is a twinge of remorse when we look back on this otherwise transformative event, a feeling that the ultimate victory in any genuinely progressive country would have been some kind of acknowledgement that Eamonn Casey had done his time, as such, an understanding that he too had been destroyed by the Catholic Church.

Because now, for all of us, it's too late.

Sunday Independent

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