BELFAST (NORTHERN IRELAND)
March 30, 2019
For decades he was the Catholic Church’s most charismatic figure in Ireland. He highlighted homelessness and poverty. He drove fast cars and stopped to sing songs with the public as he went about his merry way. That was the public face of Bishop Eamonn Casey.
In his work as chairman of the development agency Trocaire, he was not afraid to put the wind up various Irish cabinet ministers and attack American foreign policy towards poor countries such as El Salvador.
But even at the height of his powers, before his life became mired in scandal, there were those who questioned whether the slogan of Trocaire – ‘Live simply so others may simply live’ – was entirely suitable for a man like Eamonn Casey.
Bishop Casey’s life was anything but simple. He liked to eat in fancy restaurants and drive sports cars at alarming speed. He boasted to his lover, Annie Murphy, that he could dance like Fred Astaire.
By the mid-1980s, his celebrity had reached such celestial heights that RTE offered him a slot for one night hosting the Saturday Live chatshow. He regaled his audience with ‘come-all-ye’ songs and boasted that he knew 400 ballads off by heart.
Like his friend Fr Michael Cleary, who joined him as the warm-up act at the Papal Mass in Galway in 1979, Casey was the bridge between the fusty and reserved old world of the hierarchy, stuck in the 1950s, and the modern media world of soundbites, chat shows and talk radio.
Casey and Cleary, with their populist touch and crowd-pleasing manner, were seen at the time as standard-bearers for the more youthful Church of the future. But this was to unravel in spectacular fashion when news emerged much later of their sons and lovers.
The story of Casey’s affair with American Annie Murphy and how he fathered a son, Peter, helped to shatter the Church’s reputation as the ultimate arbiter of moral values. More recently, in the years before and since his death, Bishop Casey has enjoyed something of a rehabilitation.
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