The sins of the late bishop are an important part of his life story, but so is his journey to redemption

The passing of the late Bishop Eamonn Casey was marked by some kind and generous tributes, including this one from Des Wilson that appeared in the letters page of the Guardian, and which is worth reading in full, detailing as it does the important work Casey did, before his consecration, for the charity Shelter. Of particular note is the following:

His devotion …. was beyond doubt; as we travelled together all over the country we could not pass a church without him stopping the car and popping in to pray. But he was also fun-loving and sociable.

The only cavil I have with that is the use of the word “but” rather than “and”. Bishop Casey was religious and fun-loving. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Wilson goes on to speak about what happened to the Bishop after his fall from grace.

When it all fell apart, I begged him to let me balance the bad publicity by broadcasting all the good he had done, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He learned Spanish and became a humble missionary in a rural parish in South America, travelling miles in difficult conditions to say Mass to a mere handful of people. His would be a tragic story if he had allowed it to be; instead, his lack of self-pity and continued, unpublicised service to others made it heroic.

There is much to ponder in that. The Telegraph obituary, which was also very generous, described what Fr Eamonn, as he became known, did next. After his return from Ecuador, as quite an old man, he settled in Staplefield, a small parish in West Sussex, and became chaplain to the hospital in Haywards Heath, where his devotion to visiting the sick is still remembered with gratitude by many.

In reflecting on the life of Bishop Casey, some may choose to dwell on his sin. That certainly was an important part of his life story, but one also needs to consider what followed it, namely, his path to redemption. God certainly forgave him his sin; and the people of God did as well, as the appreciation he won in Haywards Heath shows.

It is useful for all of us, Catholic and not, to remember that there is always a way back after a personal catastrophe. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson that Bishop Eamonn Casey taught.