Love scandal Bishop Eamonn Casey was 'a great source of love and support'

Bishop Eamonn Casey
Bishop Eamonn Casey

The son of an Irish bishop whose love affair with an American woman rocked the Catholic Church has described him as a source of love and support, after the cleric's death at the age of 89.

Eamonn Casey died in a nursing home in the west of Ireland on Monday following a long illness.

The former Bishop of Galway gained worldwide notoriety in 1992 after it was revealed that he had secretly fathered a son named Peter with US divorcee Annie Murphy.

He had paid thousands to her for his son's upkeep in the US.

In a statement hours after Mr Casey's death, son Peter joined other relatives, including the bishop's brother Father Micheal and sister Ita Furlong, in a glowing tribute.

"We wish to acknowledge the priestly work of Bishop Eamonn, especially in the pursuit of social justice for the marginalised, as evidenced by his work with Shelter in London in the 1950s and 1960s, and later with his involvement in the setting up and development of Trocaire," they said.

"Notwithstanding the demands on his time, Bishop Eamonn was a great source of love and support, making himself available to celebrate and to empathise with us in all our important family occasions.

"We wish to thank all of those who supported him in the past, in particular, the clergy and the people of the dioceses of Galway and Kerry, the Irish community in London, his many friends in Limerick and throughout the country and abroad."

Ordained a priest in 1951, Mr Casey was appointed Bishop of Kerry in 1969 before taking on the larger and more high-profile diocese of Galway and Kilmacduagh in 1976.

A few years before, Ms Murphy and the cleric had an affair when she came to stay with him in Ireland after her marriage in the US broke down. The couple had a mutual friend.

The relationship and the birth of son Peter in 1974 remained a secret for 18 years and emerged along with the scandal that the bishop had been making undisclosed payments to the US for years.

President of Ireland Michael D Higgins said Bishop Casey will also be remembered for his work on homelessness and housing for Irish emigrants in Britain as the first chairman of Trocaire and his work with the aid agency.

He said Bishop Casey asked him to go to El Salvador in the 1980s to hear about human rights abuses and killings in the country.

"Other aspects of his 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," Mr Higgins said.

Bishop Casey, a charismatic and respected cleric who was regarded in some circles as being progressive, is said to have wanted his son Peter put up for adoption.

He fled Ireland for the US as news of the scandal was about to break, and went to Rome to resign as the head of the Galway Diocese, although he retained the title.

Later he spent time in Mexico before taking a role as a missionary in Ecuador.

The Catholic Church said the highlight of Bishop Casey's time in Galway was organising Pope John Paul II's visit to the city in 1979 and the youth mass for more than 300,000 people.

He was also said to be forthright, opposing US president Ronald Reagan's visit to Ireland in 1984 because of American foreign policy particularly in Central America.

Bishop Casey was at the funeral of his murdered friend Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador in 1980 when the service was interrupted by bombs and shooting and 50 mourners died.

In the late 1990s, he left South America and began working in the parish of St Paul's in Staplefield, Haywards Heath, West Sussex.

He retired to Ireland in 2006 and on his return made his first public statement on the affair in 14 years and apologised.

He died peacefully at Carrigoran Nursing Home, Co Clare, on Monday afternoon.

His family issued a special thanks to the religious order of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Carrigoran Nursing Home in Newmarket-On-Fergus, where he had lived for the last six years.

He said they gave him the highest possible standard of care and ensured that his comfort, dignity and pastoral needs were provided for at all times.

Funeral arrangements have not been finalised.