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.
Extramartial Affair becomes Public
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.
Degree Conferring Ceremony in Galway
Hence I will always have a deep respect for Eamon and was delighted when he returned to live in Galway.