It’s hard to get across to younger generations today the enormity of the scandal that was the revelation in 1992 that Bishop Eamonn Casey had secretly fathered a child years earlier.
One got a sense of the impact this week by the fact that the country’s largest-selling daily newspaper The Irish Independent carried a special eight-page supplement to mark Bishop Casey’s death after a long illness on March 13.
There’s something strangely fitting that Bishop Casey – a man who spent so much of his time and energy advocating for the rights of young Irish people forced to emigrate out of economic necessity – died in the week of St Patrick’s Day. Today, a new generation of Irish chaplains is working with Irish communities in far-flung parts of the world, particularly in the US where the so-called ‘undocumented’ are facing such uncertainty.
When his sin was publicly exposed, many Irish Catholics were scandalised. They winced as many journalists who had long since harboured grudges against the Church delighted in tearing down a once-mighty edifice. Journalists delighted in exposing hypocrisy, and God knows the Church has provided enough examples of hypocrisy over the years.
It was ever thus, of course – the only way not to be a hypocrite is to hold no standards to be judged by. The very fact of trying to live a set of beliefs means that we will be judged for the times we are shown not to live up to these beliefs. It’s like the story often told about a non-Massgoer who complains to the parish priest that they don’t go to church on Sunday because “the place is full of hypocrites”. Knowing the human condition all too well, the parish priest replies: “But, there’s always room for one more.” Many a theological truth is contained in a one-liner.
Thankfully, most of the times when our faith is inadequately lived, it is done so in private and remains in the realm of the confessional. Bishop Casey was a flawed man, and undoubtedly the revelations that he broke his promise of celibacy and kept the matter a secret while progressing up the ecclesiastical ladder did much to damage the Church’s public standing.
He was also a man of immense charity and pastoral warmth. Thankfully his tireless advocacy on behalf of struggling Irish people in Britain at a time when little heed was paid to them at home is being well-remembered this week. Likewise, his campaigns for justice and peace – particularly in Central America and his work with Trócaire is being rightly highlighted. He was greatly loved by the priests and people of the dioceses of both Kerry and Galway. People who ministered alongside of him speak fondly of his charity and outreach.
When this chapter in the history of the Church in Ireland comes to be written, the events surrounding Bishop Casey will prove to be a pivotal moment. It marked a time when the spontaneous trust that many Irish people had in the Church began to disappear. This was further compounded by the scandals around clerical sexual abuse.
In the end though, most people will look on Eamonn Casey with the eyes of forgiveness – it is no more than our faith expects of us.
We are none of us the sum-total of our weaknesses – and, as Pope Francis likes to recall, God never tires of forgiving us…we tire of asking.
Being a ‘good Catholic’ a ‘good Christian’ does not mean being perfect. It means having the humility to admit that we are human and, as such, while we strive for the perfect, we often fail but, with God’s help, have the strength to get up again…and again…and again.
Anima eius et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum per Dei misericordiam requiescant in pace.