Eamonn Casey, former bishop of Galway, dies aged 89

Kerry native resigned for ‘personal reasons’ following revelation of son with Annie Murphy

Bishop Eamonn Casey has died. The controversial pastor had served as Bishop of Kerry and then Galway but resigned in 1992 after it was revealed that he had fathered a child with American woman Annie Murphy. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

Former Bishop of Galway Eamonn Casey died on Monday afternoon aged 89.

He spent recent years in a nursing home in Co Clare, battling illness.

The revelation, in May 1992, that he was the father of a teenage son, following an affair with an American woman when he was Bishop of Kerry in the 1970s, shocked the church and many of its followers and led to international media coverage.

Casey resigned for “personal reasons’’, following the revelation in The Irish Times he had been making payments to a woman in Connecticut over a 15-year period.

She was Annie Murphy, the daughter of an American friend of the bishop, who had come to stay with Casey in Kerry in 1973 to recover from a painful divorce.

The affair began in the bishop’s house in Inch, in west Kerry, and their son Peter was born in 1974.

Casey was adamant he should be adopted, but Murphy resisted the strong pressure he put on her and returned to America with the infant. Although he made payments towards his son’s upkeep, he steadfastly refused to develop a relationship with him.

This was a bitter disappointment to Murphy, who in the early 1990s telephoned The Irish Times to reveal the story and set off a chain of events leading to Casey’s resignation.

Family

A statement was issued on Monday on behalf of his family, including his son, Peter, his brother, Father Micheál, his sister, Ita Furlong, nieces and nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, great-grand nieces and great-grand nephews.

The family acknowledged his priestly work especially “ in the pursuit of social justice for the marginalised”.

“Notwithstanding the demands on his time, Bishop Eamonn was a great source of love and support, making himself available to celebrate and to empathise with us in all our important family occasions,” the statement said.

The family thanked those who supported him in the past and those who cared for him in Co Clare and asked for privacy during and after the funeral.

Dr Eamon Casey, bishop of Galway pictured in 1980. Photograph: Pat Langan
Dr Eamonn Casey, bishop of Galway pictured in 1980. Photograph: Pat Langan

Awareness of conflict

President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to Casey, whose death he had heard of “with sadness” . He recalled Casey’s work on housing with Irish emigrants in Britain, as chairman of aid agency Trócaire and his work increasing Irish awareness of conflict in El Salvador.

“Other aspects of his life were the source of pain to others, for which Bishop Casey has apologised and expressed his deep regret, and he himself had the experience of pain visited on him in later life,” he said.

Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin also spoke of his “great sadness” following the news of Casey’s death. 
                                                                                                                                                  He acknowledged Bishop Casey’s contribution “to the work of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference over 23 years”, his “ inspirational leadership of Trócaire” and his contribution to the planning of the papal visit to Ireland.
                                                                                                                                        Administrator of Galway diocese Canon Michael McLoughlin said: “Bishop Eamonn brought blessings to many people. But to be human is to be both blessed and to be flawed. 
                                                                                                                                             “Some of his actions caused great hurt and the circumstances giving rise to his resignation in 1992 have been the subject of ongoing analysis. He asked for forgiveness from all those he hurt.”

Trócaire also expressed regret at the death of Casey, who was its chairman for almost 20 years from 1973 to 1992.

Casey was appointed chairman after the organisation’s establishment in 1973.

Working with the late Brian McKeown, Trócaire’s first director, Casey shone a spotlight on situations of injustice overseas, a statement said. He worked “assiduously” on behalf of marginalised communities, particularly in El Salvador, South Africa, Mozambique, Uganda, Malawi and the Philippines.

Annie Murphy with her son Peter.Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
Annie Murphy with her son Peter.Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Trócaire chairman Bishop William Crean said his work with the organisation in the 1970s and 1980s had benefited millions of people around the world.

“Bishop Casey spoke out courageously in defence of persecuted communities overseas and was willing to place himself in danger in order to do so. His campaigning, both at home and overseas, raised awareness of grave injustices and helped to bring about positive change.”

Éamonn Meehan, executive director of Trócaire, said Casey would be remembered with gratitude in communities across the developing world.

‘Sinned’

In a statement following his resignation, Casey admitted he was Peter Murphy’s father and that he had wronged the boy and his mother. “I have sinned grievously against God, His Church and the clergy and people of the dioceses of Galway and Kerry,’’ he added.

He also confirmed that a sum of 70,000 Irish punts was taken, on his instruction, from a reserve fund in the Galway diocese to be paid to Murphy. He said he had always intended repaying the money, which had been made good by several donors since his resignation.

The bishop went to Rome to resign, returned briefly to Galway, and then fled to America where he went into hiding.

He later moved to Mexico to learn Spanish, worked as a missionary priest in Ecuador and in an English parish before returning to retire to Galway 14 years later.

Ordained

Eamonn Casey was born in Firies, near Farranfore, Co Kerry, on April 23rd 1927, the second son of a family of five sons and five daughters.

Casey entered St Patrick’s College, Maynooth in 1944 and was ordained in 1951 for the diocese of Kerry.

He was appointed chaplain to St Ethelbert’s parish in Berkshire, in England, in 1960 and was involved in helping Irish immigrants to buy their homes. He was the first chairman of Shelter, the housing charity set up in the UK to put pressure on the government and local housing authorities.

He was appointed bishop of Kerry in 1969 and in 1973 helped to found and was the first chairman of the Catholic aid agency Trócaire.

In 1976 he became bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh. He helped to organise and host the visit of Pope John Paul II to Galway on September 30th, 1979.

A vocal critic of US foreign policy in Central America, in 1980 he attended the funeral of Archbishop Óscar Romero in San Salvador, during which bombings and gunfire killed about 40 people. In 1984 Bishop Casey refused to meet the then US president, Ronald Reagan, when the latter visited Galway.

Pope John Paul II in Galway with Bishop Eamon Casey in 1979.
Pope John Paul II in Galway with Bishop Eamonn Casey in 1979.

Speaking to The Irish Times in May 2010 he said: “My memory is gone badly for a long, long time. I got four mini strokes in my brain about eight years ago. “They told me – they were very blunt – they said, ‘You’ve had four mini strokes.’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ ‘You’re on your way to Alzheimer’s or a stroke.’ And I said, ‘What can I do?’ ‘Very little,’ they said.”