ROSLYN HARBOR, N.Y. — With President Reagan and former President Richard M. Nixon sitting in a front pew, the Roman Catholic bishop conducting the funeral of former CIA Director William J. Casey said Saturday that Casey's belief in the moral strength of the Administration's policies kept the late spymaster from understanding "the ethical questions raised" by his church.
The Most Rev. John R. McGann, bishop of the Rockville Centre (N.Y.) Diocese, who said he had known Casey for years, said in his homily at a funeral Mass:
"I cannot conceal or disguise my fundamental disagreement on these matters with a man I knew and respected."
Casey died Wednesday at the age of 74 from pneumonia brought on by complications arising from the removal of a cancerous brain tumor in December.
As director of the CIA, he was intimately involved in the wide variety of covert operations that have been carried out to support U.S. foreign and defense policies. Only hours before Casey died, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord told Congress he had met three times with Casey in 1985 and 1986, when government aid to the Nicaraguan contras was illegal, to obtain assistance for his private airlift for them.
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, referring only in passing to this controversy in her eulogy, said of Casey:
"Supporting Nicaragua's freedom fighters had a special priority for him, no question about it. But that had no more priority than law."
In McGann's homily, at the outset of the funeral Mass, and in Kirkpatrick's eulogy at the end, the funeral on a sunny afternoon at an altar under an icon of Jesus turned into a debate over the very issues that engaged Casey's professional life--from his days in the Office of Strategic Services, the World War II spy operation, through his stewardship of the CIA.
Speaking in the 116-year-old red brick St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in this community on the north shore of Long Island, about 30 miles east of Manhattan, McGann said:
"His conviction about the fundamentally moral purpose of American action, I am sure, made incomprehensible to him the ethical questions raised by me as his bishop, together with all the Catholic bishops of the United States, about our nation's defense policy since the dawn of the nuclear age.
"I am equally sure that Bill must have thought us bishops blind to the potential of a Communist threat in this hemisphere as we opposed and continue to oppose the violence brought in Central America by support for the contras," McGann said.
Architects of Policy
In addition to Reagan and Nixon, many of the architects of past and current American foreign and military policies, as well as central figures in the intelligence community, attended the funeral.
They included Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger; Vernon A. Walters, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Frank C. Carlucci, Reagan's assistant for national security affairs.
Also at the funeral were FBI Director William H. Webster, nominated to succeed Casey at the CIA; Deputy CIA Director Robert M. Gates and his predecessor, John N. McMahon; Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III; Secretary of the Interior Donald P. Hodel; Energy Secretary John S. Herrington; James C. Miller III, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Kenneth L. Adelman, chief of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.
Praise for Dedication
In his homily, McGann, described by a spokesman for the diocese as a participant in war protests of the 1960s and 1970s, balanced his critical remarks with praise for Casey's intellect and dedication to his goals, saying: "If you knew Bill, you knew that once you got beyond his legendary mumbling, you would find a keen, bold intelligence allied to a forceful personality, someone who did not shrink from expressing his point of view.
"Given the world as he saw it, Bill was seeking to do what was best for the United States and for the freedom which allowed him to worship God openly as a Catholic believer," McGann said.
He prayed that Casey "will now live forever in the presence of creation's central intelligence."
'Lived Life to the Hilt'
In her eulogy, Kirkpatrick, an honorary pallbearer, said Casey "lived his life to the hilt and left it in the spirit of a man who was ready . . . and not afraid of the devil."
Never mentioning the bishop's remarks, she referred only briefly to the Iran-contra affair and the congressional hearings now under way, and said: "These men and comments would not overly disturb our friend."
Reagan was seated on the center aisle, with his wife, Nancy, to his left, and Nixon sitting next to Mrs. Reagan. Casey's widow, Sophia, and his daughter, Bernadette, sat across the aisle.