Fr Pat Connaughton, Bishop Casey’s secretary for a while, recalled a time when he and the bishop were going to a meeting in the archbishop’s house in Thurles. “Our car broke down. No matter. We were near Thurles. We left it on the side of the road, and walked the rest of the way, the bishop’s arms swinging by his side. We were passed by Bishop Kevin McNamara, in many ways the very antithesis of Casey. McNamara looked out the window, and remarked to his driver: ‘There goes Eamonn in drama again.’
Bishop Casey loved that story. He told it hundreds of times later smiling broadly”.
In May 1992 the Annie Murphy affair suddenly hit the headlines. I do not think anyone in Galway believed it at first. Of course it is daft now to imagine that just because a man becomes a priest, or a woman becomes a nun, their sexuality is left hanging on the cloakroom hook at Maynooth. But at the time, the Catholic Church was so dogmatic about its teaching on sex that most of us assumed that for clergy the normality of a relationship between a man and a woman was the stuff of fiction.
Our disbelief did not last long. Annie Murphy came out fighting for her son and her dignity. She appeared on The Late late Show, and in all the newspapers. But once the dust had settled we all realised that it was a very normal story which was only temporarily shocking because it involved a bishop who preached the Catholic doctrine.
The Catholic heirarchy was caught off guard. Many of them, while not among Casey’s most ardent admirers, had always recognised his good work. Now the truth of human fallibility bore in upon them. Some of Casey’s former bishop colleagues (always so smiley together at Maynooth gatherings ), became irate that he should have let them down so badly. One bishop even suggested that Casey should have resigned years before.
If some Galwegians were still annoyed by the anti American demonstrations, prompted by Casey, which marred the visit of President Reagan some years before, that annoyance quickly disappeared. The people began to rally behind their bishop. The way was opened by members of the Galway clergy. Mons Jimmy McLoughlin’s letter, read at all Masses the following Sunday, caught the changing mood. He emphasised that the work of Bishop Casey and his achievements ‘cannot be erased or diminished’.
An tAtr Leon O’Morcháin, Barna, preached that he hoped that the Pope would honour Casey in the same way the father greeted the ‘prodigal son’.
Fr Colm Kilcoyne, writing in The Sunday Press, asked the hierarchy to ‘speak to us collectively, not from on high but from inside this crisis’.
But the ‘drama again’ took a more serious turn. Poor Casey ran away. Despite having little or no knowledge of Spanish he worked with members of the Missionary Society of St James in a rural parish in Ecuador. He travelled long distances to reach widely scattered members of his parish. After some years in South America he worked as a curate in the parish of St Pauls, Haywards Heath, in southeast England. There was some suggestion of a sexual impropriety made against him. This caused him deep distress, and worry. It was investigated, and Casey was entirely cleared.
Fourteen years after his resignation, our own bishop Dr Martin Drennan, invited Casey to take up residence in the parish house in Shanaglish, south Galway. He was refused permission to say Mass publicly. This was a further blow and humiliation to a man who had a natural ability to reach out to his congregation, sharing the word of God with great spirit and sense of joy. He was allowed however to say Mass at his house in private. Parishioners frequently requested that he be allowed to serve a public ministry. One of them asked The Irish Times, ‘Why continue to punish this man?’
One of the first things that Bishop Casey did when he was appointed to the Galway diocese in September 1976, was, as far as practicable, to visit every elderly person living alone. He brought them all a present. It was an electric blanket.
He visited my grandmother, and gave her one of his blankets. That visit was talked about for years. My grandmother may have had an electric blanket already, but nothing compared to the bishop’s blanket. On cold winter afternoons, she’d wrap it around her knees, and always looked content.
When the time came for her to go into care, her bag was packed carefully, the bishop’s blanket on top.
As we were leaving her house she asked again if the bishop’s blanket was packed.
I told her it was. “You are very fond of that blanket, Granny.”
“I am,” she said, holding my hand. “That blanket was given to me by a very kind man.”
Bishop Eamonn Casey, Born at Firies, Co Kerry, April 24 1927 - died (aged 89 ) at Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare, March 13 2017.
Rest in Peace
NOTES: I am digging into Fall from Grace - The Life of Eamonn Casey, by Joe Broderick, published by Brandon 1992, The Irish Times, and Advertiser archives.
Letter to the Galway diocese, May 11 1992.
I acknowledge that Peter Murphy is my son and that I have grievously wronged Peter and his mother, Annie Murphy. I have also sinned grievously against God, His Church, and the clergy and people of the dioceses of Galway and Kerry.
Since Peter’s birth I have made contributions, such as they were, towards my son’s maintenance and support. All payments came from my personal resources except for the one sum of IR£70,669.20, paid to Annie Murphy in July 1990, through her American lawyer.
That sum was paid by me from a diocesan reserve account on my personal instructions to the bank. I described the payment as a loan to a third party. I confided in nobody the nature and purpose of the transaction. It was always my intention to repay that money.
The sum of IR£70,669.20 and interest has, since my resignation, been paid into the diocesan funds of the Diocese of Galway on my behalf by several donors so that the funds of the diocese are no longer at any loss.
I have confessed my sins to God and I have asked His forgiveness, as I ask yours.
Prayer, guidance and dialogue are clearly necessary before final decisions are reached about how I can set about helping to heal the hurt I have caused, particularly to Annie and Peter.
I have already set out on that road and I am determined to persevere. I trust that you will respect my need for some time and space to reflect and pray, so that, with God’s help, I can again hope to serve Him and His people, especially Peter and Annie, in my new situation.
Pray for me.