Condemned by Bishop Eamon Casey as being Immoral!

I have had a somewhat stormy relationship with the Catholic Church and its teachings on sexuality. While Student Union President at Galway University (NUIG) in 1981, I was patron of the newly formed Gay club (GaySoc). On their behalf, I applied to the university Governing Body for official sanction. The college authorities at the time went ballistic. They were adamant that the four bishops on the Governing Body should not have to see such attempts to legitimise homosexuality on campus. Homosexual acts were still crimes in Ireland at the time.
In spite of the support of a few Governors such as the present NUIG President (Iggy O'Muircheartaigh), my motion failed to get through the necessary sub-committees. Still I set up the society anyway with funding from the general student body.

As student president, I also introduced (along with my fond colleague and Vice President Conor Maguire) the sale of condoms onto the Galway campus on St Valentines Day 1982. In spite of this being illegal, it was well supported by the general student population. However two Nigerian nuns that used to be great fans of mine, lost all faith in me as a result of my action. They came into my office one day crying, despairing that such a 'nice guy' as me  could do such an evil thing & pleading with me to reverse my decision!

Eleven years later, I was a pub & nighclub owner in Galway. On St. Valentine's Day 1992, I installed condom dispensing machines in the toilets of my premises as part of a nationwide campaign called 'Condomsense'. I pointed out to the public that this was a positive social move to protect against the current Aids epidemic as well as to offer added protection to females; after all a man can have one night sex encounters and take no responsibility whatsoever for any consequential pregnancy. Selling these pieces of rubber was still illegal. No other publican supported me and I was left on my own. The police raided the venue every few nights & confiscated the condoms; groups of people said prayers outside on the street; I received hate mail promising me 'hell, fire and damnation'. I was eventually prosecuted by the courts and facing a jail sentence.
Actually the police were very nice. They told me that they had no choice but to uphold the law & pleaded with me to stop selling the banned material. I refused of course.
The then Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh, Eamon Casey had all churches in the diocese at Sunday mass condemn me for corrupting the morality of Irish youth. Reverend Father Cusack, a priest friend of my brother, came over to me one night in the pub, shook my hand and apologised for his sermon the previous week- he had no choice by to read out the 'bishop's encyclical on the issue!
My wife Cepta asked me not to attend Sunday mass at her family's church during these turbulent times as neighbours would start pointing me out and giving the impression that our marriage was 'on the rocks'. For, in the warped logic of some petty people, some reasoned that I was only advocating condoms as I was probably using them myself for extramarital affairs!!
With my court case looming, Charles Haughey, Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) suddenly changed the law and allowed the sale of condoms over the bar counter. So I was saved from prison. Which was just as well for me as there were a few people in jail that I had previously had arrested for drunk & disorderly behaviour!!
But why did Haughey make a U-turn and change the law? The revelations within the Catholic Church hierarchy must have had an impact.

Bishop Flees Ireland after
Extramartial Affair becomes Public
For in May 1992, a few months after being condemned by Eamonn Casey, the bishop suddenly resigned and fled Ireland when it became known that he had a teenage son from a long intimate relationship with an American divorcee Anne Murphy during the 1970s. It was also found out that he had used church funds for maintenance payments towards his son.
Soon after, I was interviewed by the BBC Newsnight television programme in the probable hope that I would condemn him. This I refused to do as I had great respect for the man. Eamon was a progressive church leader who had campaigned on many issues of human rights including the Irish homeless in Britain & against US policy in Central America.

Bishop Boycotts US President's
Degree Conferring Ceremony in Galway
In June 1984 Ronald Reagan was conferred with an honorary degree by NUI Galway. I was one of the leaders of the anti-Reagan demonstrations who organised a series of street protests against this ridiculous decision to award a law degree to a man that had broken international law by bombing Nicaraguan ports and arming right wing terrorists in the region. We approached Bishop Casey for his support, knowing that he had publicly condemned the right-wing regimes and death squads of Latin America. and attended the funeral of the assassinated liberation theology advocate Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador cathedral when the crowds were fired on by snipers. The bishop agreed to boycott the Presidential conferring ceremony at the university of which he was a governor. His decision helped our campaign garner even more support locally with the result that more people participated in the protests than welcomed Reagan. This was an amazing achievement in a city and region that traditionally had strong cultural, family and economic ties with the United States.
Hence I will always have a deep respect for Eamon and was delighted when he returned to live in Galway.

11 comments:

Smokey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ina said...

Brendan this is excellent stuff.

Anonymous said...

Brendan

as a catholic priest may i say i was disgusted with casey for having initially denying his son and have felt at times of his bishopric he was often more than hypocritical. however time moves on and i wish him well but it seems those there in same position as he was are no better

Anonymous said...

the sorry thing about the casey affair is that his parents are not
alive to see 'how well our Eamonn has done'

Anonymous said...

what a sorry affair if it's not casey its cominsky if it's not him it's marcinkus,how did such a gang get in the same religion.

dj said...

Hi Brendan, I enjoyed reading condom sense stuff, I was also involved with same group, mainly Angela S and
Pete S, we were few but very focused and effective!! On that night machines were simultaneously placed in Salthill, Warwick, Castle and Oasis. A few days later we received inquiries from Tuam and the Sportsman became the first rural pub to sell the offending items. We got great support from many and none at all from some who ought to have stood with us!!

Regards
David Warren

Brendan Smith aka Speedie said...

Hi David,
Thanks for your letter & glad to know that you were part of the 'Condomsense' campaign. However, I think that you are quite wrong on the venues that installed the condom vending machines. Oasis, Warwick & Castle nightclubs did not install the machines as part of the pioneering 'Condomsense' campaign until after the legalising of the public sale of condoms. I too was part of the campaign- I had Setanta's at the time, which was the only venue in Galway City and Salthill to break the law and install them. None of the other nightclub owners supported me- they sat on the fence & waited to see what happened to me. I was raided continuously by the Garda and was brought to court over my decision to ignore an unjust law. Angela came to court with me. Check with Angela & Pete to confirm.
Cheers!

ShirleyValentine said...

Excellent column! I was surprised that condoms were not easily available since in America circa 1982, machines were in all the bars I once was a regular. I found out pesonally how hypocrital a Catholic could be when I had a child fathered by a long time friend who was raised Catholic. She is now 24 and still has not met her father even though his parents and brother accept her lovingly into their family. He feels that once he confessed and was given absolution that his duty to her was done. Believe me, she is better off without him, but still wants to meet him and it tears my heart out that he is such an arse.

patsy said...

hello brendan ive just come upon your blog and its hilarouis .i lived in offally in 1980 and i was on the contraceptive pill .i had to go to the chemist in the dark and sign a register to receive it .and in the window of the chemist was a life size statue of the blessed virgin .im glad to say it didnt deter me as im from the north .this was one of the strangest experiences in my life as the pharmasist gave me a lecture on the do,s and dont,s of the catholic religion

patsy said...

brendan is your blog currently active

Brendan Smith aka Speedie said...

Yes Patsy, I am still very much active on my blog! Check the main(home page) at www.speediecelt.com
Thanks for your comment which seems so surreal from today's perspective. To get a lecture on morality from the local chemist and to ahve a statue of the Virgin Mary on the window of his pharmacy feels like something from the dim and distant past. But as you and I know that it is only a few years ago.
How much has changed in such a short period of time!
p.s. I could not contact u direct as your contact deails (email, blog) were not showing