16 MAY 1992, Page 8


No more than a simple case of inflatio ad absurdum


The Editor has asked me to write about the theological and ecclesiastical aspects of Bishop Casey's indiscretion, although it is my judgment that by the time I have writ- ten about a subject in 'Way of the World', it is usually too late to give punters a second dose in The Spectator. The oddest part of the whole story is that it should have had such a long run already. Bishops have been rooting like rattlesnakes throughout the history of western (and eastern) Christen- dom. I well remember sitting next to a viva- cious and learned cardinal at luncheon in the French Embassy and reading a few months later that he had been found dead outside the flat of a prostitute in the 7me arrondissement. In 1990 Archbishop Mari- no, the highest ranking black in the Ameri- can hierarchy, had to resign after having had sexual intercourse, or at any rate some- thing approaching it, with Vicki Long, a 27- year-old deaconess. Nobody then spoke of any crisis in ecclesiastical authority, or des- perate need to reopen the celibacy debate. Most good Catholics, in the days before religion was taken over by zealots, morons, and bores, would have reacted with a dis- creet chuckle.

The only thing which distinguishes Dr Casey's circumstances from perhaps a hun- dred other such this century in the English- speaking world is that the poor old Bishop of Galway has been Parkinsonised. It is a terrible thing to admit, but there is some- thing almost infinitely comical in the predicament of an important man who has met his Sarah Keays. With a tendency in the respectable press to assume that the woman must always be right, and a tenden- cy in the gutter press to run any sex story involving a celebrity for all it is worth, there is practically no limit to the havoc which can be caused by a really vindictive woman with a baby. Poor Dr Casey. It can't be easy for a bishop to buy rubber johnnies in the Irish Republic, even if Mrs Murphy had not been determined to have his child. We must not laugh too loud. Peter Jay, a fellow journalist even if he was posing as an ambassador at the time, got caught once. Still, it gives those of us who are not bish- ops or ambassadors or Cabinet ministers something to smile about, does it not?

In place of Sarah Keays's baby, we have on this occasion a wonderfully comical 17- year-old, six-foot, all-American teenager. 'What I want from my father right now is for him to come over to me and take my hand and call me son,' explains Peter Mur- phy, who is described by his mother as the driving force behind her actions. 'He has no right to be a bishop, while I live here with nothing. I don't want his money, but I want his acknowledgment and his love.'

Well, Dr Casey is no longer a bishop, thanks to Peter's initiative. I doubt that there will be any more money from that source. If I were Dr Casey I am not so sure under the circumstances that I would feel inclined to take Peter's hand and call him son. I might call him something quite dif- ferent.

But perhaps the funniest aspect of the whole business was in the efforts of serious newspapers to take it seriously, as a justifi- cation for reporting it at all. The Indepen- dent's leading article — Pastores dabo vobis — will surely go down in journalistic annals as an example of high-mindedness and absurdum:

Whether this story is interpreted primarily as a human tragedy or as an example of the hypocrisy of the Catholic church, it is bound to revive the debate about the celibacy of the Catholic priesthood ...

But the Sunday Times, which, strangely, chose to cover the story in its 'Style' sec- tion, did not do too badly:

Casey was yesterday said to be in Peru, hav- ing hot-footed it to New York ...Behind him he left a country in moral turmoil and a church covering his tracks as it had for most of his son Peter Murphy's sad seventeen years of life.

Elsewhere the Sunday Times recorded the opinion that the Murphy family was engaged in a 'simple gold-digging exercise'.

The Observer revealed Mrs Murphy's ways with a video recorder:

The strange thing is that two years ago I met Eamonn [Casey] in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York, and all the feelings I once felt for him came flooding back. A friend made a video of the meeting and you can see him kissing me, hugging me and grabbing me.

Needless to say, this video is now being offered as evidence of the Bishop's guilt. But the Observer, too, must make the solemn point:

The affair has enormous implications for the authority of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, caught in the middle of the latest Church- State clash on abortion. And it touches on the question of celibacy for priests which is causing problems for the Catholic church worldwide.

On the contrary, it does not touch on the question of priestly celibacy, nor does it have any implications at all for the authori- ty of the hierarchy. Celibacy and chastity are entirely separate things, though one or two modern dictionaries sloppily confuse them. The celibacy issue will be looked at again when the critical shortage of priests outweighs the ancient calculation that the Church cannot afford married priests with families.

The doctrine that continence is a holier state than marriage predates St Paul. In the words of Our Lord: 'There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake. He that can receive it, let him receive it.' However, I should have thought that the difficulty could be overcome by redefining celibacy and continence to include any relationship or activity which did not have the purpose or result of procreating children. By a rather neat inversion, this may be seen as no more than a development of the Church's present attitude to contraception: if chemical or mechanical obstacles to con- ception invalidate the marital act making it null and void, then a 'married' couple who forsook procreation would remain celibate. In other words, there need be no objection to Catholic priests marrying so long as they guarantee to have no children: the wife can go out to work and earn money instead of sitting around all day having babies, as they would be expected to do under the present dispensation.

The Catholic Church has always taught that where there is no intention to have children, the marriage is null and void. This is the basis of many annulments, marking the difference in marriage law between Catholics and Anglicans, who are much stricter in matters of divorce.

It needs only a small turn of logic's screw to establish that if marriage is not marriage where there is no intention or possibility of conception, then fornication is not fornica- tion, either. Priests wishing to marry should be invited to attend some service of bless- ing, such as divorced people receive in the Church of England and homosexuals in America.

None of which has anything to do with the former Bishop of Galway, his former mistress or his looming, ever-present, six- foot, 17-year-old son. Their tale is no more than a five-day chuckle, a snort, a fart in the wind.