Majority favours Casey's return to Galway, poll finds


The former bishop of Galway, Dr Eamonn Casey, should be allowed to return to the diocese, according to the majority of those surveyed in an MRBI poll published last night.

Some 56 per cent of those surveyed for the poll for TG4 television news also felt the former bishop should not be required to explain his past actions and behaviour, while 33 per cent felt he should. Some 82 per cent of those surveyed felt priests should be allowed to marry.

However, Dr Casey's use of diocesan funds was identified among 37 per cent of those surveyed as the most serious element of his conduct in his relationship with Ms Annie Murphy, mother of their son, Peter.

In May 1992, after his resignation as bishop of Galway, Dr Casey admitted to paying more than £70,000 (€88,881) to Ms Murphy in 1990, but said the money had been repaid with interest after he stood down.

Some 15 per cent of respondents were most concerned about his treatment of his son, and 13 per cent singled out the secrecy of his relationship with Ms Murphy as the most serious aspect. Only eight per cent singled out fathering a child as a cleric; and seven per cent were most concerned with the former bishop's treatment of his child's mother. Some 13 per cent of respondents to this question were in the "don't know" category.

The MRBI survey was conducted by telephone among a representative statistical example of 400 adults aged 18 years and over in the Galway diocese between September 18th and 24th last, and involved a structured questionnaire.

The overall objective was to refine attitudes to the former bishop of Galway just over 10 years since The Irish Times first reported on use of diocesan funds to maintain his child. The poll also sought to determined attitudes on married priests; women as priests; and other aspects of Catholic priesthood.

Some 44 per cent of respondents felt the former bishop should be allowed to return to the diocese to retire; 19 per cent felt he should be allowed to return as a priest; 11 per cent believed he should be allowed to return as a bishop; 16 per cent didn't know; and seven per cent said "under no circumstances" should he be allowed back.

Of that 44 per cent, more women (50 per cent) than men (37 per cent) favoured this option, and it had its highest support among those aged 18 to 24 (52 per cent) and 25 to 45 (50 per cent). More women (37 per cent) than men (32 per cent) felt the former bishop should explain his conduct. This view was strongest among those aged 18 to 24 and those in the farming community.

While 82 per cent favoured priests being allowed to marry, some 77 per cent were also in favour of women priests.

More women (22 per cent) than men were in the minority of those opposed to women becoming priests. Women (81 per cent) were more in favour than men (76 per cent) of laicised priests being allowed to serve the Catholic church in other ways.

Respondents were asked for views on the suggestion by Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe that priests might be happier living in groups than alone. Some 60 per cent favoured this suggestion, while 22 per cent were against and 18 per cent had no opinion.

The poll findings are to be discussed during a live Tuairim news special tomorrow at 8 p.m. on TG4.