Eamonn Casey’s ‘sin’ empowered the people to question the Catholic Church

Bishop Eamonn Casey fathered a child, but at least he seemed human, and, subsequent to his resignation, the hierarchy became answerable, says Ryle Dwyer.

FOLLOWING his ordination to the priesthood in 1951, Eamonn Casey went to England, where he made a name for himself among Irish immigrants.

He was a brilliant organiser and helped establish Shelter, the organisation for the homeless. 

As a result of his good work, he was appointed Bishop of Kerry in 1969, and became a key organiser of the Catholic Church’s third world charity, Trocaire.

Although reared in Limerick, he was born in Kerry. In 1976, he was transferred to Galway, perhaps to get the hierarchy out of a hole. 

The forceful Bishop Michael Browne was not willing to retire until the hierarchy announced a successor acceptable to the clergy in Galway, in line with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. The hierarchy was anxious to appoint Dr Kevin McNamara, but he would have been unacceptable to the local priests.

Bishop Casey was transferred to Galway and Dr McNamara was appointed Bishop of Kerry, without consulting the priests there, much to their annoyance.

Bishop Casey did not have as much impact in Galway as he had in Kerry, probably because of subsequent disclosures.

Much of the media coverage of his death has surrounded the scandal of his having fathered a child. Some of those who worked with him believed that, if he had stayed in Ireland instead of fleeing, he would have been accepted by the public.

Fathering a child was a human act, and people loved him because he seemed so human, unlike the austere bishops who had dominated Irish society for so long. In addition, he had taken £70,000 of Church money to pay Annie Murphy.

His greatest critics were his brother bishops — not those hypocritical people who were always ready to cast the first stone, nor the media, which ignored his abject apology, as if he had never issued it.

“I have grievously wronged Peter and his mother, Annie Murphy,” Bishop Casey said at the time of his resignation as Bishop of Galway. 

“I have also sinned grievously against God, His church, and the clergy and people of the dioceses of Galway and Kerry. I have confessed my sins to God and I have asked His forgiveness, as I ask yours.”

The hierarchy would not forgive him for undermining them. Other than Noel Browne, the former health minister, few Irish people had questioned the bishops.

For generations, Irish people had shirked their responsibility to inform their own consciences and think for themselves, preferring to blindly follow the dictates of the clergy and the hierarchy. After the Casey scandal, the bishops suddenly became answerable.

Anyone with doubts about how Bishop Casey would have been treated by the hierarchy had he not fled the country has only to consider what happened when he did return to Ireland, for two funerals.

The first of those, in March 1994, was the funeral of the husband of one of his sisters.

That August, he returned to Kerry for the funeral of his godmother, in Castleisland. In between, the media highlighted his attendance at Ireland’s World Cup game against Mexico in Orlando, Florida.

On Bishop Casey’s return in August, Archbishop Desmond Connell, who had been a classmate at Maynooth, issued a blistering statement.

“There is an obligation to repair scandal, because people have been deeply disturbed, not by the initial revelation of, say, the Bishop Casey scandal, when there was a wave of compassion, but by the subsequent behaviour of Bishop Casey,” said Dr Connell.

What was the subsequent behaviour that the archbishop resented?

“Every so often, he [Casey] seems to come back and tear open the wounds again,” he said. “What worries me is that he doesn’t seem to have any conception of the damage, the injury, which has been caused, particularly to the young people.

“It has to be said. I know that people were utterly shocked when they saw him appear in episcopal insignia in Cork. The scandal is there. He turns up at the World Cup and the scandal is reinforced.”

The archbishop seemed to be suggesting that Bishop Casey should never show his face in public again. Citing the damage to young people was the height of hypocrisy. Eamonn Casey’s offence was between consenting adults, in contrast to the paedophile cases that plagued the Church, which turned a blind eye to the abuse and thus facilitated it.

Even as the archbishop was denouncing Bishop Casey, the Brendan Smyth child abuse scandal was simmering and would erupt a few months later, bringing down the government led by Albert Reynolds.

Bishop Casey tarnished his own image, but in doing so he provided a valuable service to the Irish people, who began to hold the Church responsible for the decades of abuse that had been shamefully covered up.

Pope Francis is currently considering marriage for priests. Having supplied missionaries for the rest of the world, the Catholic Church now is short of priests.

It seems crazy that a married Anglican priest who converts is entitled to function as a Roman Catholic priest, while a Catholic priest who marries must quit.


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