Bishop Eamon Casey

When you drive from Killarney to Dingle in Kerry you pass one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Europe; Inch Strand is a glorious expanse of white, shimmering sand and a walk along its length is heaven, rain or shine.

Not far away, up a half hill is the old bishop’s palace where the Bishop of Kerry often resided. Last time I was in it it had become a restaurant of sorts, but everyone remembered it for something else, the place where Bishop Eamon Casey conducted his affair with American divorcee and third cousin Annie Murphy.

This week the son of that love affair, Peter, broke his long silence over his father and his relationship with him. Eamon Casey is now 86, suffering from Alzheimers, and living in a nursing home in Clare.

It is a sad end for a once powerful prince of the church, a passionate supporter of emigrants, especially in London where he worked tirelessly for them, a devoted pastor who cared for and loved his flock at a time when almost all other Irish bishops were remote and domineering.

I met him a few times and was always impressed with his humanity and lack of pretension. He was genuinely concerned with the welfare of emigrants, a large, colorful man with a zest for life that was very evident.

He was almost too much flesh and blood. Back in 1969 Eamon Casey was appointed Bishop of Kerry and was soon embroiled in a passionate love affair.

In 1973 his third cousin from America, Annie Murphy, a pretty 25-year old, came to Ireland on her father’s recommendation, fleeing a miscarriage and a divorce. Casey picked her up at the airport and was smitten.

The vulnerable young woman and the all too flesh and blood bishop hit it off and they had a torrid affair, mostly carried on in the 46-year-old bishop’s palace at Inch and the courtship featured long walks on Inch Strand.

Annie got pregnant, Casey denied the child and paternity until 1992 when it became public after Irish Times American editor Conor O’Clery broke the sensational story.

In those pre-pedophile scandal days It seemed like the world collapsed and the church went out of its way to demonize Casey for his human frailty.

He was penalized, driven from office, refused permission to say mass. He spent a long time in enforced exile in South America and later in Britain. His son revealed this week that he was a broken man but still loved his church.

Sure Casey was wrong, and he should have owned up to his deed and become a proper father to his son. But given the deluge that followed with much worse sex scandals with far fewer punishments, he seems far less culpable.

Perhaps someday we will understand that human beings generally can sometimes do daft things, whether dressed in a collar, a uniform or just plain street clothes.

Bishop Casey was wrong and was wronged by his church. This week’s brave interview by his son reveals some sad truths but strangely, makes us feel more sympathy for Casey who made belated attempts to patch up his relationship with his child.

He was more sinned against than sinning in the end, his son believes, and he is right. Eamon Casey fell victim to human frailty, no more no less. Let him without sin...