Eamon Casey: Opening the floodgates of scandal

Eamon Casey's sin was the abandonment of his child and partner, but it was venial compared with the scandals that have engulfed the Catholic Church since. By Colin Murphy

The story of Eamonn Casey and Annie Murphy

Annie Murphy arrived in Ireland to stay with Eamonn Casey  in April 1973. She was 25, and recovering from the traumatic breakup of a two-year marriage.

Her mother was Eamonn Casey's cousin; her father, John Murphy, and Casey had become friends. Casey had offered to put Annie Murphy up at his residence in Inch, Kerry, while she got over her recent traumas.

Casey was four years into his tenure as bishop of Kerry, a dynamic and colourful figure who combined a gregarious personality and habit of fast driving with an impressive track record in social advocacy and fundraising. His appointment as bishop in 1969 – at the age of 42 – was a recognition of his great success agitating and organising against homelessness in Britain, most notably as founding chairman of the housing charity Shelter. He didn't have the academic theological pedigree normally associated with Irish bishops, but neither was his in any way radical on doctrinal issues.

Soon after Annie Murphy arrived, she and Eamonn Casey began a relationship. By November, she was pregnant. Casey pressed her to have the child adopted.

She gave birth to Peter Eamonn at the Rotunda on 31 July 1974. Casey visited the mother and child in hospital, and they argued about her refusal to put the child up for adoption. She refused to go back to Inch, instead electing to stay in a Daughters of Charity home for single mothers, St Joseph's, Dublin. Casey visited, and they argued again. She was deeply unhappy, had medical complications after her pregnancy, and also became paranoid about Casey's intentions. Shortly afterwards, Annie Murphy left, with her baby, Peter, to go home to Connecticut.

In March 1975, Annie Murphy's father, John Murphy, came back to Dublin to meet Casey. They agreed that Casey would send Annie Murphy $175 per month in maintenance, increasing over time to $300 per month.  
A year later, Casey was moved from the Diocese of Kerry to Galway. Again, he threw himself into organising social, fundraising and cultural activities, and gradually became a prominent national figure through his advocacy for Trocaire, which he had founded at the request of the bishops in 1972, and appearances on RTÉ (famously singing on the Late, Late Show).

He was prominent during the Pope's visit in 1979, and the following year was in the international media when, representing the Irish bishops at the funeral of Oscar Romero, who was murdered while saying mass in San Salvador, he witnessed a riot provoked by the Salvadorean military in which 65 people were killed. Casey later boycotted Ronald Reagan's 1984 visit to Galway to receive an honorary doctorate.

In December 1986, Casey was arrested when driving with twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system. The press got wind of it, and Casey released a statement saying he regretted “the embarrassment and hurt my widely publicised incident in London must have caused”. His frankness won plaudits, and, if anything, the incident increased the regard in which he was held.

Over this time, Casey and Annie Murphy had intermittent, formal contact. In 1990, Annie Murphy and her partner, Arthur Penell, were in financial difficulties themselves, and they and Casey began to negotiate a settlement. In July 1990, Cassey paid them a cheque of £70,669.20 ($117,000), plus a further $8,000 (a total of $125,000).

The scandal breaks

Murphy and Pennell then sought further monies to pay for Peter's college education. Annie Murphy was also concerned that Casey acknowledge his son. She decided to go public, and in January 1992, contacted the Irish Times. The newspaper gradually confirmed various aspects of the story, but didn't publish it.

Murphy and Pennell meanwhile continued in negotiations with Casey, through his intermediary, an Irish priest in Brooklyn, Jim Kelly. These negotiations arrived at a figure of $150,000 to be paid by Casey for Peter's education, but weren't finalised.

On Thursday 1 May 1992, Phoenix magazine ran a short story on an unnamed leading cleric about to be involved in a scandal. This Irish Times still didn't publish, but the story was by then an open secret amongst the media.

Casey had left Ireland, apparently on holidays, and then travelled to Rome. On 5 May, Casey presented his resignation to the Congregation of Bishops at the Vatican. The following day he passed briefly through Dublin and Galway before flying out of Shannon to the US. A brief statement  said he had resigned for personal reasons, and left to work on the missions. On 7 May, the Irish Times front page revealed some details of Casey's payments “to a woman in Connecticut” while paying tribute to Casey as “the embodiment of Catholicism's human face”. The following morning, RTÉ's Morning Ireland programme had Annie Murphy on the line, finally telling her story.

On Monday 11 May, the Galway diocese released a further statement from Casey:
“I acknowledge that Peter Murphy is my son and that I have grievously wronged Peter and his mother, Annie Murphy. I have also sinned grievously against God, His Church and the clergy and people of the dioceses of Galway and Kerry.”

He explained the payments he had made, and said the £70,669 cheque had been paid by him from a diocesan reserve account on his personal instructions, described as a loan to a third party.
“It was always my intention to repay that money”, he said. The money, with interest, had been paid back on his behalf by friends in the days since his resignation.

To Latin America, and then to England

Casey went to learn Spanish in the remote Mexican village of Cuernavaca, near the Guatemalan border. (See accompanying panel on his interviews, bogus and authentic.) He then took up a contract with an American missionary order, the Society of St James the Apostle, in Ecuador.

The Irish Times' Patsy McGarry found him in his parish of the rural village, San Miguel de Los Bancos, in December 1997. The locals referred to Casey as “Padre Eduardo”, he wrote, and though Casey shared his home with three other priests, only one of whom spoke even poor English, Casey himself had not learned fluent Spanish. Casey refused to be interviewed.

When Casey's missionary contract ended in 1998, he moved back to the UK, visiting Ireland briefly that August. Although he initially said he was “not seeking or accepting any public pastoral ministry in the church” (as reported by Patsy McGarry), he subsequently took up a position in the parish of St Paul's, part of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton.

Casey was in ministry there until last November , when he voluntarily stepped aside following a child abuse allegation being made against him. No details have emerged of the allegation, which was reported via a diocesan Child Protection office in Ireland. Willie Walsh, bishop of Killaloe, said on Clare FM radio that he had spoken to Eamonn Casey and Casey had assured him the allegation was unfounded. Walsh said the person making the allegation was “personally known to him (Casey) for a long number of years”. Other reports have said the person had made similar, unproven allegations against others in the past. Casey has not yet been informed of any allegation, or questioned, by the police. In the meantime, he has moved from his home into another diocesan house in Arundel and Brighton.

Much of the information above is drawn from Joe Broderick's 1992 book Fall From Grace: The Life of Eamon Casey, which was based in part on his interview with Annie Murphy

Before and after Casey: more serious Church revelations

By 1990, two years before Eamonn Casey's resignation, most dioceses in Ireland had taken out insurance policies against claims arising from child sexual abuse by priests. Kevin McNamara, then Archbishop of Dublin, had first taken out a policy for the Dublin diocese with Church and General in 1987.
By that time, Brendan Comiskey, bishop in Ferns, was aware of repeated complaints of sex abuse made against Sean Fortune, and of complaints against James Grennan.

In Dublin, a canonical trial was in process against Fr Tony Walsh (who was later laicised) and Bill Carney had earlier been defrocked after being convicted of abuse.

In Armagh, Cathal Daly, then bishop of Down and Connor, had been made aware of allegations made against Brendan Smyth in West Belfast, but had deferred these to the superior of Smyth's order.

When compared to the abuse committed by priests, the culture of cover-up in the church, their failure to act on complaints, and the use of church donations and property to pay for the costs of abuse, Casey's affair and his borrowing of money to pay for his son's maintenance were trivial. Yet it is his resignation that is remembered as the watershed moment for the modern Irish Catholic church, when the first cracks appeared in the illusion of authority and austerity. There was much worse to come.

Brendan Smyth was the first abuser to have his name and face etched into the public consciousness. He had been abusing since the 1940s, and as complaints followed him around, he was moved from parish to parish, and between dioceses, and countries, by his order, the Norbertines.

The RUC requested his extradition from the South in 1993; the Attorney General's office (under Harry Whelehan) sat on the request for seven months, and the issue eventually brought down the Government when Albert Reynolds appointed Harry Whelehan as president of the High Court and Dick Spring led Labour out of coalition with Fianna Fáil.

In September 1995, it emerged that Desmond Connell, then archbishop of Dublin (and later cardinal) had, in 1993, approved a loan of £30,000 to help Fr Ivan Payne pay damages for sexual abuse to Andrew Madden. Madden had been assaulted between 1977 and 1980, when he was an altar boy.

In 1996, Christine Buckley recounted her experiences at Goldenbridge industrial school for the documentary Dear Daughter. Following Mary Raftery's 1999 documentary States of Fear, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, apologised to victims of abuse, and the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was established. In September 2003, the chairman, Judge Mary Laffoy, resigned (to be replaced by Sean Ryan), complaining of inadequate resourcing and lack of cooperation from the Department of Education.

In January 2002, Michael Woods, then Minister for Education and Science, personally concluded an indemnity deal with the religious congregations that would ultimately leave the State to foot over 90 per cent of the bill for claims of redress from abuse victims, somewhere in the region of €900 million. The religious congregations agreed to contribute €88 million in cash, with a further €40 million in property transfers.

In 2002, Colm O'Gorman returned to the Wexford village. Fethard-on-Sea, where he had been abused by Sean Fortune, for the BBC documentary Suing the Pope. The outcry led to the setting up of the Ferns Inquiry, which reported in October 2005. The Ferns Report detailed horrific allegations of widespread and sustained abuse in the diocese of Ferns, and documented the failure of the church leadership in Ferns, Donal Herlihy and then Brendan Comiskey, to deal adequately with suspected abusers. Priests had been moved around parishes, or even to other countries, or sent for psychological assessments which weren't acted on. The detail was shocking.

And yet, 15 years before the Ferns Report, most of the Irish dioceses had had the foresight to take out insurance against abuse claims.

The next stage will be the Dublin diocese inquiry, legislation for which is currently being prepared.


On 11 April 1993, the Sunday Independent front page was devoted to a “World Exclusive”, an “interview” with Eamonn Casey.

It described how the writer, Gordon Thomas, had tracked Eamonn Casey down to the remote Mexican village of Cuernavaca, and conducted an “interview” with Casey “by prior arrangement”.

Thomas explained how Casey had “agreed by telephone to meet me... for a new edition of my bestselling book, Desire and Denial: Celibacy and the Church”.

The article occupied the entire front page and two full inside pages of the newspaper, and had been extensively advertised on radio during the previous week. The ad featured Eamonn Casey's voice.

But the premise of the article was untrue, and the radio ad a distortion. Casey had not spoken to Thomas, other than to tell him that he would not be interviewed. But Casey had spoken by telephone to a former friend of Annie Murphy, Dympna Kilbane, who had travelled with Thomas to Mexico. Thomas had recorded the telephone conversations, with Kilbane's permission but without Casey's, and these had provided the material for the radio ad and the subsequent “interview”. Casey told other media the article was “a total fabrication”.

The Sunday Independent defended the “interview” for two weeks, then backed off and apologised.


Eamonn Casey did a series of interviews with Veronica Guerin, for the Sunday Tribune, in November 1993. Guerin had travelled to Ecuador to request an interview, and after various contacts, Casey eventually agreed.
“I feel I let down Annie, Peter, the people, my priests and my colleagues and I am very very sorry about this. I left a shadow over them all”, he said.
“I feel I can say that the trauma of the last two years has been a very very positive growing experience. I find that I have a much greater serenity in my life...
He said he felt guilty at missing his son's first 18 years, but “now that the opportunity is there I'm taking to it and I'm determined that I'm going to try to do what is right before God and for Peter”.
He didn't feel that his actions were hypocritical, he said, “because I never accepted that I was right in what I was doing. I didn't want it to be and I struggled with it and I kept struggling”.
He said nobody was stopping him from going home, but he didn't wish to until he could “go back out of the glare of publicity”. Asked would this be soon, he said: “It has to be. I am not getting any younger”.
He said he believed “wholly” in the church's teaching on sexual matters. “One cannot simply reject certain teaching of the Church and accept others... But if you ask me, did I single out sexual morality as a major topic on which to preach or to write pastoral letters, no I did not.”

additional reporting by chris connolly