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COMMENT: Ireland has changed since Casey scandal

Monday, 20th March, 2017 7:59am

Story by Tony McCullagh
COMMENT: Ireland has changed since Casey scandal

Catholicism was at the peak of its powers when Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979. PHOTO: Dublin City Public Libraries Digital Archive

COMMENT: Ireland has changed since Casey scandal

Catholicism was at the peak of its powers when Pope John Paul II visited Ireland in 1979. PHOTO: Dublin City Public Libraries Digital Archive

THE death of Eamonn Casey last week gave cause to reflect on how much Ireland has changed since 1992, when revelations about the former bishop’s relationship with a divorced woman rocked Catholic Ireland to its core.

Of course, it would still be a big deal today if a leading member of the clergy was found to have fathered a child. Throw in the financial elements of the Casey saga and we’d have the makings of a major controversy, albeit perhaps one not so seismic.

About a week before Casey died, Pat Kenny’s Newstalk show carried an excellent report by Jonathan Healy on the scandals the Church has found itself embroiled in. It started with the Casey story, with archive recordings of Annie Murphy’s now infamous appearance on ‘The Late Late Show’, before taking a darker turn into the litany of child sex abuse cases and the Catholic Church’s shamefully inadequate response to them.

In this context, the sexual peccadillos of Eamonn Casey pale in comparison. Notwithstanding his misappropriation of diocesan funds, Casey was really only guilty of human frailty or, if harshly judged from a devout Catholic perspective, blatant hypocrisy.

The recent Tuam babies scandal has laid bare Church and State failings that were far more sinister and far-reaching than Eamonn Casey’s.

A measured response to the former bishop’s passing came in a statement from President Michael D Higgins, who paid tribute to Casey’s work on homelessness and housing with the Irish emigrant community in Britain. The President also recognised his important role as chairman of Trócaire and his involvement in human rights issues in Central and South America.

President Higgins only briefly alluded to the controversy that threatened to define Eamonn Casey’s legacy.

Mr Higgins stated: “Other aspects of his [Casey’s] 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.” 

The President was right not to focus on this aspect of his life. For many, the enduring image of Eamonn Casey will be that of an ebullient bishop warming up the crowds in advance of the Pope’s mass in 1979, when Catholicism in Ireland was at the peak of its powers.

All these decades later, many Catholics will now shrug with indifference when the details of Eamonn Casey’s indiscretions are revisited. Either it shows how much we have matured as a society or how far the Church has fallen from grace.

Read the digital editions of the Dublin People Northside East, Northside West & Southside here

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