Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Gardai investigated claim bishop kissed teenage altar boy

Former bishop John Magee

Gardai investigated a complaint against a former senior bishop from Northern Ireland after he allegedly kissed a teenage boy and told him he loved him.

Details of the investigation, which was conducted two years ago, emerged for the first time in the Republic's Commission of Investigation report on the Catholic Diocese of Cloyne in Co Cork.

It also emerged in the report that it took diocesan authorities three months to report the matter to gardai once they were made aware of the allegations.

A file was subsequently sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), who recommended no charges be brought against the bishop.

According to the report, a man called Joseph came forward with the allegations in January 2009 after widespread publicity surrounding Bishop John Magee's failure to properly handle abuse allegations against priests in his diocese. Joseph had been an altar boy, a reader and later an aspiring priest.

He was 17 when he was accepted as a candidate for the priesthood by the diocese and had contact with Newry-born Magee because of this.

However, he later decided not to take his place in the seminary due to family circumstances.

Joseph went to Bishop Magee's residence to inform him of this and claimed that during this meeting the cleric embraced him tightly for approximately a minute and asked him if it "felt good".

The bishop also kissed him on the forehead, he claimed.

Joseph would have further meetings with the bishop -- some when he was under 18 and others when he was over 18.

He claimed that at some of these meetings there were similar prolonged tight embraces and kisses on the forehead.

According to Joseph, the bishop declared he loved him and told him he had dreamt about him. He believed this may have happened when he was under 18.

Joseph made the complaint to the diocesan child protection delegate, Fr Bill Bermingham.

Fr Bermingham did not believe Bishop Magee's behaviour constituted child abuse.

He discussed the matter with Ian Elliott of the Catholic Church's National Board for Safeguarding Children, who agreed with his assessment.

According to the report, they decided not to go to gardai or the HSE, but Mr Elliott advised that Bishop Magee should get advice on "boundary issues".

Bishop Magee denied kissing Joseph, saying he made the sign of the cross on his forehead.

The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza; Cardinal Sean Brady; and the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dr Dermot Clifford; were informed of Joseph's allegations.

Archbishop Clifford later advised Joseph it was not a matter to be referred to the gardai.

However, Joseph was not satisfied with this and went to a solicitor and gardai.

A garda advised him that that the behaviour of Bishop Magee had been unprofessional and inappropriate, but was not sexually abusive.

Bishop Magee was forced to step aside in early 2009 over his failure to adequately handle abuse complaints and Archbishop Clifford became Cloyne's apostolic administrator that March.

Almost immediately after this appointment, Fr Bermingham decided to finally inform a garda superintendent and the HSE of Joseph's allegations.

A file was subsequently sent to the DPP, who directed there should be no prosecution.

Archbishop Clifford later told the Commission of Investigation that he accepted Bishop Magee's behaviour could be considered grooming.

The view of the HSE's principal social worker, who later engaged with Joseph, was that Bishop Magee's behaviour was inappropriate, but did not constitute sexual abuse.

The report concluded the allegations were dealt with appropriately by the diocesan authorities.

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