|Illustration by Caty Bartholomew|
I'm very angry about something and I have to get it off my chest. I think many of you with Irish blood in your veins will be angry too by the time I've finished because most of you will be aware of the existence of the controversial Bishop Eamon Casey of Galway and Ireland and, in his considerable prime, of the international Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. The church of forgiveness and love.
What I'm angry about is that even after all these long years of suffering and shame following his 1992 disgrace after his affair with American divorcee Annie Murphy, his church, the Catholic church of forgiveness and love, is still severely punishing Bishop Casey.
He is now 84 years old and in poor health. Yet still he is forbidden to celebrate Mass in public. This is something of crucial importance to all priests of his generation.
He is now living in a nursing home in the Diocese of Killaloe and has been a resident there for about 18 months because of his poor health. It is highly unlikely that he will ever recover sufficiently to be able to return to the small curate's house in the parish of Shanaglish outside Gort which was his home after he returned to Ireland in 2006 from the Third World and a brief stint in an English backwater parish.
The deterioration of his health has been quite sharp in recent months and, as matters stand, shunned by all his peers who preach forgiveness, Eamon Casey will die one of these days in a nursing home.
And even here, in a sheltered environment, he is prohibited from celebrating Mass in public. I understand that he can appear on the edge of the altar space where another priest is the celebrant, but that is as far as it goes.
The son that he fathered to Annie Murphy in 1974 when he was bishop of Kerry is now nearly 40 years old and living in the United States. Yet still the punishment continues.
The Casey scandal, revealed in 1992, happened at a time in Irish history when we now know that many priests were not alone predatory pedophiles, but were also being protected by their superiors by being moved from parish to parish and even from country to country.
Casey's offense involved a passionate affair with a consenting adult female and, later, allegations of using church funds to help support his son. There was no question of little altar boys and girls or other innocent children being involved.
Yet still no forgiveness. Yet still the hand of love and caring has not been extended by the hierarchy to this old man and brother priest.
He is still deeply respected and loved by the majority of his former people both in the Diocese of Kerry, his native county, in his adopted Galway, in England, where he did such mighty pastoral work before being ordained bishop, and in countries like Ecuador where, after his fall from grace, he began his penance and punishment.
Petitions have even been delivered to the hierarchy in the last two years, signed by both clergy and laity, asking that at least he be allowed to say his Mass in public. And still no forgiveness at all.
At a time when the Catholic Church in Ireland is losing followers by the thousands every year, and at a time when the hierarchy is once again displaying traditional ferocious opposition to an abortion referendum which is upcoming, there was never a more fitting moment for a display of forgiveness for the penitent. Even the petty concession of allowing an old and nearly broken priest to celebrate Mass publicly would mean something.
But it is not happening and it is not likely to happen, and that is why I am so angry today.
Say a small prayer, if you pray at all, for a man who was great in his day, who has served his time, and who richly deserves forgiveness.