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Bishop misled child abuse probe

A former senior bishop from Northern Ireland deliberately misled the authorities in the Republic and failed to report clerical abuse allegations as recently as three years ago, a damning report has said.

John Magee, a Vatican aide to three Popes, has been blamed for ignoring complaints against priests in the Diocese of Cloyne in Co Cork as recently as 2009 and failing to follow official protection rules.

The Newry-born man gave his second-in-command Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan, who admits he was more concerned with the plight of abusive priests than victims, a free hand to defy an edict to report all accusations.

Both Bishop Magee and the Monsignor, the vicar general in Cloyne, refused to co-operate with a garda inquiry into abuse in 2006.

The inquiry into Cloyne - the fourth damning examination of clerical abuse and cover-ups of the Catholic church in Ireland - found the Co Cork diocese and its bishop ignored church guidelines requiring all suspected molestation cases to be reported to police, and the Vatican encouraged this concealment. It found nine allegations out of 15 were not passed on.

When reports of failures in Cloyne first emerged in 2009 Cardinal Sean Brady, Ireland's most senior Catholic cleric, insisted Magee should not resign.

At the time, Magee was being investigated over inappropriate behaviour with an 18-year-old who was considering joining the priesthood. Bishop Magee hugged him, kissed him on the forehead and told him he had dreamt about him.

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According to the report, a man called Joseph came forward with the allegations in January 2009 after widespread publicity surrounding Bishop Magee's failure to properly handle abuse allegations against priests in his diocese.

After a meeting at Bishop Magee's residence Joseph claimed the cleric had embraced him tightly for approximately a minute and asked him if it "felt good". According to Joseph, the bishop declared he loved him and told him he had dreamt about him.

It was not regarded as abuse. The Bishop excused it as a warm Italian gesture.

Cardinal Brady said: "I regret any hurt or any misunderstanding that caused, because I wanted him not to resign and not to run away but to face his responsibilities."

The shocking 400-page report by Judge Yvonne Murphy, which follows her 2009 damning expose of the Dublin Archdiocese, found some of the Catholic hierarchy still resisted church policy 12 years after child protection rules were adopted in 1996.

Bishop Magee was found to have tried to blame subordinates for his flawed and failed child protection.

He admitted as much and apologised.

"I accept in its entirety the commission's view that the primary responsibility for the failure to fully implement church procedures in the diocese lay with me," he said.

Immediately announcing legislation to prosecute anyone who withholds information about alleged sex abuse, Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter warned priests would not be excused even if they learned details during confession.

The new laws will enforce penalties of five years in jail if they do not volunteer information about suspected paedophilia.

John Magee stood down from day-to-day duties in March 2009 and resigned a year later.

Key points

  • The response of the Diocese of Cloyne to clerical sex abuse allegations was "inadequate" from 1996 to 2008.
  • In 2009, gardai investigated a complaint by a former altar boy against Bishop John Magee, but the DPP recommended no prosecution.
  • Nine out of 15 complaints which should have been reported to the gardai in the 1996-2005 period were not.
  • Primary responsibility for the failure to implement protect-ion guidelines lies with former Bishop of Cloyne John Magee.
  • Bishop Magee took little real interest in implementing child protection guidelines for twelve years.

Diocese of Cloyne

  • Catchment area in excess of 250,000.
  • Bishop based at St Colman's Cathedral in Cobh. Major population centres include Youghal, Cobh, Midleton, Fermoy, Mitchelstown, Mallow and Kanturk. Parts of the diocese circle Cork city suburbs.
  • Boasts in excess of 100 parishes.
  • Diocese run by total of 133 clerics.
  • Of these, 116 have already been garda vetted -- with one application currently being processed. Of the remaining 16, all involve retired priests, priests out of ministry or clerics on long-term overseas duties.
  • Dr John Magee was bishop from March 1987 to March 2010. His final 12 months was spent assisting the Murphy Report outside of diocesan administrative duties.
  • Archbishop Dr Dermot Clifford of Cashel & Emly has been Apostolic Administrator of Cloyne for the past two years.
  • Church says appointment of a new bishop is "imminent" -- but cannot say precisely when the Vatican will confirm a candidate.

Cleric had strong papal ties

By Ralph Riegel

John Magee arrived in the sprawling Cork diocese of Cloyne seemingly destined for greater things.

In 1987, many in Cloyne believed the Down-born cleric was earmarked for the red hat of cardinal -- and perhaps even a future Irish contender for the papacy.

Having served as private secretary to three different popes -- Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II -- he arrived at St Colman's Cathedral in Cobh boasting Vatican connections that other Irish bishops could only dream about.

Yet on March 24, 2010, just one week after he celebrated the 48th anniversary of his ordination and the 23rd anniversary of his elevation to bishop, Dr Magee (74) confirmed his resignation had been accepted by Pope Benedict XVI two weeks earlier.

It came as little surprise given the appalling damage inflicted on the diocese in a report by the church's own watchdog, the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children, the previous year.

For 14 months, Dr Magee had effectively been Bishop of Cloyne in name only while his diocese was administered by the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dermot Clifford.

For the past three years, Dr Magee has declined to comment publicly on the report into the handling of clerical child abuse allegations until the document was formally published.

Yesterday, the 74-year-old bishop was nowhere to be seen at the parochial house in Mitchelstown, to which he retired last year. His only comments on the report came via his public relations firm.

Archbishop Clifford said Dr Magee should have been sitting in front of the media yesterday answering questions rather than him. He said he believed Dr Magee was overseas, but didn't know where.

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