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Sisters of the Unholy Secrets

Irish Independent, 21 January 1999

Bishop Eamonn Casey and Father Michael Cleary ... they were close friends and the country's best known clerics, and when the women in their lives - Annie Murphy and Phyllis Hamilton - sat down in an RTE studio last night to talk on the Later With Clare McKeon show they had a few surprises to reveal. Marese McDonagh on the late night secrets

BISHOP Eamonn Casey and Father Michael Cleary.

For many years these close friends were the clerics we knew best.

But what they had in common was not just their flamboyance, their popularity and their tendency to pop up repeatedly in the spotlight.

Their place in the spotlight has been guaranteed because of what we didn't know for many years.

Bishop Eamonn Casey fathered a son, Peter, by Annie Murphy an American divorcee who fled to Ireland in 1973. Fr Michael Cleary also had a son, Ross with Phyllis Hamilton, a woman whose supposed role in life was as his housekeeper.

Bishop Casey had known about Fr Cleary's son. But Fr Cleary had not known about the existence of Peter Murphy. Coincidentally he had berated Annie Murphy for refusing to give up her baby who was born in Dublin and had at the time demanded to know who the father was but she refused to tell him.

The women who had relationships with Ireland's best known clerics came face to face last night to provide a fascinating insight into how the two men's lives overlapped. And how they coped.

``Eamonn knew about Ross. Michael never knew about Peter,'' Phyllis Hamilton explained on RTE's Later with Clare McKeon show.

She recalled Fr Cleary's fear when Annie Murphy told the world about her relationship with the former Bishop of Kerry and her own anger with the American woman.

``I didn't like Annie at all,'' she said.

When the story broke she had sat looking at the newspaper for three hours before she could bring herself to read it.

``I felt `this is the end for all of us'.''

Fr Cleary had been out of the country with a group of golfing friends in Spain and had learned about it on Sky News.

When he came home a few days later he was still ``whiter than white''. He was afraid and he was shaking.

Annie Murphy who has been in Ireland since last Friday ``laying memories to rest'' said she had met Fr Cleary once ``in unfortunate circumstances'' and had not liked him.

``He was very cruel to me,'' she said.

Fr Cleary may not have known that his friend the bishop had fathered a child but he had tried to get Ms Murphy to give up the baby when she gave birth in Dublin.

Fr Cleary had told her the baby was ``a child of God'' and had ``roared'' at her but she refused to give up her son, Peter who is now aged 24.

Ms Murphy, who flies back to the United States today, said she felt sadness for Bishop Casey now because he was a man without a country.

She said if she had to relive the past she would do things a little differently and with more dignity.

She felt responsible for Eamonn because of his love of the Church. She had known that an Eamonn without the Church would be in trouble because it gave him power and focus, she said.

Phyllis Hamilton recalled that she had been 17 when she first had sex with Father Cleary. She said been abused as a child. She had fallen in love with Fr Cleary. He had been ``terribly hypocritical'' but he was ``delivering what he was told to deliver''.

When he spoke off the cuff he was ``the best person on the planet'' and that was the person she loved.

He had pushed the boat out and to a certain extent had gone into denial, she said. There had been three areas in his life, the priest, the performer and the man at home.

Describing her reaction when she first met Bishop Eamonn Casey at Shannon airport in 1973 Annie Murphy said she instantly saw him as a delightful person who was larger than life.

She felt he was terribly lonely and she was very wounded at the time and this made for a strange mix.

They had thrown the rules out the window.

``Here was a perfect opportunity to say `to hell with it, let's go' and we did'', she said.