Along with his mitre, Bishop Eamonn Casey
wore many other hats during his career.
He was said to have been
perturbed when appointed a young bishop of Kerry in 1969, probably
worried about how he would combine what was expected of a prince of the Catholic Church with his favoured style of the broth of a boy.
He found a way to manage that,
toeing the line when needed – “One cannot pick and choose when it comes
to the church’s teaching,” he insisted – but also becoming a political
thorn in many sides by consistently giving meaning to one of his
favourite contentions: “One powerful single voice is more important and
effective than a number of voices, each of which is in competition with
the other for both the public purse and public attention.”
Much good came of that voice. In
1971, he masterminded a national collection in support of Irish welfare
centres in Britain that raised £280,000 in a single day.
This type of
fundraising was convenient for governments that were reluctant to take
any responsibility for the Irish abroad, it being noted in 1975 by the
minister for foreign affairs that emigrant welfare work was “mainly a
Catholic Church effort”.
It was thus decided State funding was not
justified and, in response, Casey excoriated the government.
When not championing emigrant
welfare he was vocal about poverty, suggesting in 1971 that “even a
respectable church” had to speak out on social justice.
As chairman of
Trocáire from 1973, he was again a frequent critic of governments. He
insisted in 1977 that the government “was not genuinely committed to
aiding the development of the third world” and that official aid was
In 1978, Alex Tarbett, the executive director of Concern, wrote a private letter to taoiseach Jack Lynch
expressing concern at Casey’s “rather intemperate attack on your
government... I presume that you do know that Bishop Casey’s
political feelings would not be disposed towards Fianna Fáil.
In 1979, Casey denounced the government’s “meagre” response to the
Indo-Chinese crisis and its slowness to act, calling on it to accept
Such was his profile and ego that
he was often lampooned.
Hibernia magazine reported in 1974 that “since
being made Bishop of Kerry, Casey has built up a reputation for fast
cars and frequent absences from his diocese; a child in catechism class
once said that the difference between God and Bishop Casey is that while
God is everywhere, Bishop Casey is everywhere except in Kerry”.
By that stage, of course, he had other things on his mind; he had met Annie Murphy the previous year. In the 1993 book Forbidden Fruit,
Murphy recalled their lovemaking: “There stood the bishop, my love,
without clerical collar or crucifix or ring, without covering of any
kind. The great showman had unwrapped himself . . . He stood before me,
his only uniform the common flesh of humanity . . . I witnessed a great
hunger. This was an Irish famine of the flesh.”
More importantly, he subsequently
fathered a son, Peter, with Murphy and tried unsuccessfully to pressure
her into giving him up for adoption: “He is not my son. He’s entirely
yours now,” he told her.
Murphy was forced to spend time at the St
Patrick’s mother-and-baby home in Dublin.
Murphy remembered “there were
smirking pictures of Mary who had got a child without you-know-what and
life-sized bleeding statues of the Sacred Heart . . . One heavily
pregnant girl was on her knees shining the already shiny corridor tiles .
. . Eamonn began again with his demand that I give Peter up.”
Casey had a remarkable ability to
compartmentalise, and alongside his noble and productive social
agitation, his sexism and profound hypocrisy persisted.
In 1975 he was
vocal about the importance of Cherish,
the organisation established to support unmarried mothers whose
chairperson, Maura O’Dea, estimated there was a 60 per cent rejection
rate by the families of Irish women who were pregnant outside of
Casey became a patron of Cherish,
and had this to say about the problem of rejected unmarried mothers in
his address to the organisation’s 1975 conference: “If the parents could
only be got to act in a sympathetic and responsible manner, the hurt to
many an unmarried mother and her child could be greatly lessened. The
bitterness resulting from rejection has caused permanent damage to many a
“It is difficult to understand how
the total rejection of their child . . . could be reconciled with
Christian love and forgiveness . . . Instead of discriminating
negatively against such an innocent person ought we not to consider the
real handicap in the child’s life where the natural father is not there
to fulfil his vital role in his child’s development in every level? Ought we not immediately agree that a child with such a disadvantage to
be the ideal subject of positive discrimination? Ought it not be
cherished more than the others?”
That was the busy Bishop Casey of the 1970s.
You couldn’t make him up.