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Remembering Bishop Casey


REMEMBERING BISHOP CASEY             Gerry O'Shea

Bishops were very important men in Ireland twenty-five years ago. They were commonly addressed as "my lord" and their residences were often called palaces. They dressed in purple, carried a crozier and wore a mitre which, like any high hat, is meant to proclaim a person's authority.

This was the Irish episcopal world that Eamonn Casey joined in 1969 when he was appointed bishop of Kerry on the recommendation of Cardinal Heenan of Westminster. The prime minister, Jack Lynch, and the president, Eamon De Valera, attended his inauguration to high office in Killarney.

The previous year Pope Paul V1 issued his controversial encyclical Humanae Vitae which asserted, against the advice of his chosen advisors, that the use of the contraceptive pill or condoms - even by married couples - was immoral. We do not know if any in the Irish episcopate disagreed with the faulty and skewed logic in this document. They all followed the Latin dictum: Roma locuta est, causa finita est. Rome has spoken - case closed.

  When Fr. James Good, a lecturer in University College Cork, dissented from the dubious assertion that wearing a condom is sinful, he was silenced by Bishop Lucey and he ended up ministering to the tribes in the Turkana desert where using the contraceptive pill was not a burning issue.

Most bishops came across to the public as modest and unassuming people whose private lives rarely elicited public comment. They were operating in a church where the various edicts and dogmas had the mark of infallibility so they were not really subject to criticism in the beliefs they propounded.

Eamonn was very different. He liked to party - wine, cigars and fast cars -  were part of the lifestyle of the new bishop in Killarney. In a word, he was a bon vivant, an ebullient personality who loved company and late-night celebrations.

Before his appointment to lead the diocese of Kerry he made a name for himself supporting Irish emigrants in London in their efforts to get their share of public housing. He provided important leadership in that community by encouraging them to organize and assert their importance in the areas where they lived.

Many families in Kerry and throughout Ireland had members working in England, and they really appreciated a churchman - now a bishop - who cared about the plight of their children. He was a very popular man, frequently seen on Irish television commenting on the various issues of the day. However, he never veered from the official church line requiring mandatory clerical celibacy or questioning the ban on the use of contraceptives in any circumstances by Catholics.

Bishop Eamonn assumed leadership roles in programs that helped the poor in Ireland, and in 1973 he founded Trocaire, a third-world charity that remains the Irish bishops' substantial and commendable response to the plight of people in underdeveloped countries. He went further in expressing solidarity with oppressed people by supporting the admirable work of Bishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, and he openly opposed President Reagan's visit to Ireland in 1984 because of America's support for right-wing regimes in Central and South America.

 

Eamonn Casey's geniality and cheerful disposition endeared him to many people throughout Ireland. He was the only bishop who hosted a meal for Pope John Paul during his historic visit to Ireland in 1979. By this time, he had been promoted to the larger and more prestigious diocese of Galway, and when the pope visited Knock shrine it was Eamonn and his Dublin friend, another very sociable priest, Michael Cleary, who entertained the huge crowd before the pope arrived. They were magnificent performers, but years later it emerged that they both had fathered children at that time.

May 7th, 1992 turned out to be a pivotal day for the Irish Catholic  Church. The Irish Times revealed that Eamonn Casey had fathered a child with a young American divorcee named Annie Murphy in 1974. Most people were shocked and many were scandalized that a bishop would be responsible for such behavior.

Consternation reigned among the bishops who, with one exception, showed no compassion for their colleague. He had let their club down badly - sex with an American divorcee was well beyond their tolerance level. They feared the inevitable media questions like where did it happen and how many times did they engage in the forbidden act. They were glad when the word went out that he had departed to some unknown place. The whole clerical establishment in Ireland and in Rome showed little sympathy for Annie or their son Peter. They hoped it would all just somehow go away quietly.

 Well, Eamonn did leave for America rather than confront the crisis, and he ended up as a missionary in Ecuador for many years before returning first to work in a parish in England and from there returned to Galway for his remaining years.

Looking back recently, his son Peter wondered what the crisis was all about seeing as his father was just guilty of having an affair. A good point but affairs by bishops were outside the accepted standards of Irish life. In a recent interview, Annie Murphy asked if contraceptives are still illegal in Ireland. Her story with Eamonn might be very different today because condoms are easily available in every town and village.

I don't recall any spokesman for the Church pointing out that Catholic social teaching is very clear on these matters. The first moral obligation on anyone who fathers a child is to love and care for his offspring. This is true for bishops with mitres or poor men with tattoos in the ghetto. Sorry no exceptions according to Thomas Aquinas.

In other words, Bishop Casey should have resigned, explained to the people that, like most men, he craved for intimacy with a woman and while they didn't want a baby, it happened and now he and Annie had to face the consequences. Instead he abandoned Peter as a child while preaching about love in Galway and Ecuador.

While I have great admiration for the dynamism and leadership Casey showed in helping poor people in England and in Ireland as well as his wonderful commitment to Christian principles in starting  Trocaire, and while I don't care - and it is none of my business to find out - how many women he or any other bishop slept with, he failed the basic test of loving the baby he helped bring into the world.

As for his mitred  colleagues who couldn't wait to get rid of him, soon after Eamonn's departure, they had to try to justify their own inaction over many years when the Irish people found out about the widespread sexual abuse of minors by predator priests. Bishop Eamonn's transgression was much less dire than their refusal to follow the legal and moral imperatives to protect the young people they were responsible for in their dioceses.

The Saw Doctors summed the situation up well:

He helped the starvin' millions and he got them food to eat

And homeless Irish emigrants are livin' on the street

And when it came to singin' his repertoire was vast

He swore that he'd be celibate; he slipped and broke his fast.

May he rest in peace.

 

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