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John Magee, Bishop of Cloyne (Co. Cork)

Bishop John Magee

See also separate article on The Cloyne Report (July 2011)


Two allegations of sex abuse were made against Bishop Magee. These represent two of eight cases in which false sexual allegations were made against an Irish Bishop in the period 1994 to 2006.

In 1987, John Magee was appointed Bishop of Cloyne. After being consecrated by Pope John Paul II on St Patrick’s Day 1987 at St Peter’s in Rome, he returned to Ireland to assume the pastoral care of 120,000 people in a diocese of 46 parishes centred on the east Cork harbour town of Cobh.

(A) In 1994 an un-named Irish Bishop was accused by the UK Guardian of being a member of a paedophile ring. There are only 26 diocesan Bishops in Ireland and the Guardian report contained details that reduced the number still further. The Irish Bishops threatened a class libel suit and the Guardian apologised.

(B) In 1999 the Irish television company TV3 broadcast a different sexual allegation against the Bishop of Cloyne (in Co. Cork) John Magee. He also threatened legal action and TV3 apologised.

In an article in the Sunday Business Post on 11 January 2009 "Embattled Bishop Still Has Support in Cloyne", Kieron Wood wrote:

"Vatican-watchers speculated that Magee was being earmarked for a return to his native province, as a future Archbishop of Armagh, but soon after his return, things began to go wrong.

"Unfounded rumours about Magee’s behaviour began to circulate. It seemed that his accusers had mixed him up with Monsignor Micheál Ledwith, the head of the national seminary who has since been laicised.

"More baseless rumours were spread by TV and newspapers after a lay diocesan official took an action for unfair dismissal. Magee threatened legal action against TV3, saying he had been ‘‘deeply hurt’’ by the ‘‘false and malicious’’ claims. The television station later apologised."

The first "rumour" presumably refers to The Guardian allegation. However Kieron Wood is being too kind to the accusers when he suggests that they mixed up John Magee with Monsignor Michael Ledwith. Some seminarians in Maynooth did indeed complain about the behaviour of Monsignor Ledwith. However their complaints had nothing whatsoever to do with a fictitious paedophile ring. The Guardian published a lying allegation in 1994 which was based on a statement by a renegade priest - not a Maynooth seminarian.

Bishop Magee stepped down from the administration of the diocese in March 2009 and resigned in March 2010 following allegations in a Report published in December 2008 that he had mishanded allegations of child abuse made against two priests of his diocese.

The report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC) followed an investigation in 2008 by NBSC chief executive Ian Elliott into the management of two child protection cases in Cloyne. Completed on June 28th 2008 it claimed that practices in Cloyne were "inadequate and in some respects dangerous". Mr Elliott's report was made available by Bishop John Magee of Cloyne to his Case Management Advisory Committee, which advised him on child protection issues.

Ian Elliott and Bishop Magee
A clue to the attitude of Ian Elliott towards Bishop Magee can be gained from an episode in April 2008 in which Mr Elliott was quoted in the Sunday Tribune (20 April) as saying: "The national board for the safeguarding of children in the Catholic Church has been made aware of issues surrounding the handling of allegations of abuse within the Diocese of Cloyne. The board has not received the full information and documentation requested of the diocese. We are trying hard to resolve these difficulties and have sought an urgent meeting with the diocese to progress these matters further."

in its statement in response, the Diocese of Cloyne said that Bishop Magee and other representatives had met Mr Elliot on two occasions. "These meetings were cordial and productive," said the statement, adding that Bishop Magee later wrote to Mr Elliott offering to meet him on either April 4th, 7th, 14th or 21st as well as promising to co-operate fully and provide him with access to all relevant files. Mr Elliott wrote back on April 14th, indicating that he was unable to fix a date for a meeting until after April 17th, and that he would be in contact to discuss other possible dates. The Diocese statement said his comments were therefore "surprising".

Objections by Diocesan Advisory Committee to Elliot's Report
On July 9th 2008 the Case Management Advisory Committee wrote to the NBSC advising "your report makes assertions and assumptions that are false and it makes attributions that are defamatory of the members of Interdiocesan Case Management Advisory Committee. "It also makes very serious omissions which further distort the truth." The Committee letter said the NBSC finding "seriously wrongs the diocese of Cloyne and our committee" and, that if issued, remedy would be sought in "either ecclesiastical or secular courts or both".

Beacuse of the threat of legal action, the NBSC would not publish their own Report nor would the Government or the Health Services Executive (HSE). However in December 2008 the Bishop himself had the Report published on the diocesan website. This remarkable action - presumably in the interests of accountability and transparancy - brought the house down on his own head, especially as he failed to point out the false and defamatory statements in the Report. The members of Bishop Magee's own Advisory Committee were efectively prevented from suing for libel because of the Bishop's action. Bishop Magee's folly (which recalls the actions of the Sisters of Mercy in apologising to false accusers in order to "heal their pain") was then used by the media to destroy him. In 1994 and 1999 the Conference of Bishops - and Magee himself - had threatened to sue the media when they published false allegations. However by 2008 the Church had become so decadent that it was slandering itself!

Extracts from Letter of Diocesan Advisory Committee to NBSC dated 9 July 2008

....... Your report makes assertions and assumptions that are false and it makes attributions that are defamatory of the members of the Interdiocesan Case Management Advisory Committee. It also makes very serious omissions which further distort the truth.

Most seriously, your report asserts that: "Children have been placed at risk within the Diocese of Cloyne through the inability of that diocese to respond appropriately to the information that came to it regarding child protection concerns involving the clergy. It failed to act effectively to limit the access to children by individuals against whom credible allegations of child sexual abuse had been made." What is your evidence for these assertions? What evidence does the board have to demonstrate that children have been put at risk?

Your report also asserts: "The competence of those involved in this area of work in the diocese has to be questioned." To whom does this refer and what questions need to be posed? Mr Elliott, chief executive of your board, was twice (February 28th and March 7th, 2008) invited to meet with the Interdiocesan Case Management Advisory Committee in order that he might be introduced to the members and be given an explanation of how it functions. He did not avail himself of the opportunity. His failure to attend occasioned his failure to note the experience and qualifications of the members of the committee and acquaint himself with the nature and extent of their deliberations which extend far beyond issues of child protection.

Your report further asserts: "Any meetings that were convened by the diocese, such as the Child Protection Management Committee, are apparently focused on the needs of the accused priest." This is not true.

It goes on: "There is no documentary evidence that the risk to vulnerable children was discussed or considered at any time by them." It was discussed repeatedly and was a primary concern.

The report continues: "Again, this raises serious doubts about the ability of these groups to perform effectively in this role." What evidence does the board have for this damning assertion?

All your board's assumptions are based on the perusal of two case files. The invitation to members of your board to peruse a comprehensive review of the handling of all cases in the Diocese of Cloyne, compiled by Dr Kevin McCoy, was not taken up.

Your report states that "two serious cases of sexual abuse had been reported to the NSBC on a completely unsolicited basis". Unsolicited they may have been but they are not unconnected.

Both complainants are currently pursuing civil cases against the Bishop of Cloyne. Both are represented by the same firm of solicitors. That firm of solicitors appears to be connected with many of the cases supported by the private organisation which made the complaint "to the Minister regarding the practice of the Diocese of Cloyne in a particular case". Surely the board is not so naive as to expect the litigants in these two cases to speak well of the pastoral initiatives undertaken in their regard or even to advert to them. It could seem that the board is being manipulated.

The board's report makes a most serious omission in neglecting to mention that in the case of Father A, the gardaí undertook an investigation of the complaint made against him but no prosecution was brought.

An even more serious omission in the board's report concerns Father B. The report inexplicably omitted to state that in his case he was investigated three times by the gardaí and on each occasion the DPP failed to prosecute. Furthermore, he has at all times vigorously denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly threatened the bishop and complainants personally and through his solicitors, over a period of many years and is strenuously contesting the High Court proceedings brought against him in which the bishop is caught up. Both priests are relying on their constitutional right to their good name and the presumption of innocence.

What does the board believe that the HSE can do in these circumstances which the bishop has not done already? In its assertion that priests against whom accusations are made can be stood down from ministry, is the board asserting that the bishop can violate canon law and act against a priest's constitutional rights?

Under the heading of Recommendations, your report suggests that the Diocese of Cloyne immediately adopt a safeguarding policy for children. Enclosed for your information is a copy of the diocese's policy of which you are evidently not aware.

Your report also recommends that child protection training should be sourced and provided for those in the diocese who work in child protection. It has already been sourced and provided and continues to be provided. ................

ALLEGATIONS MADE AGAINST BISHOP MAGEE (especially by Patsy McGarry, Irish Times)

(1) Not Reporting Allegations to Health Services Executive (HSE)
In a sneering article "Bishop on the Block" dated 10 January 2009, Religious Affairs correspondent of the Irish Times, Patsy McGarry wrote:

"Then, last Wednesday, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Barry Andrews, disclosed that in 2005 and 2007 Bishop Magee deliberately misled the State when he said Cloyne diocese complied with church and State guidelines on child protection.

"He did so in a letter to then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Brian Lenihan on November 23rd, 2005. As Andrews noted of then, "the HSE [Health Service Executive] investigation corroborates the NBSC [National Board for Safeguarding Children] finding that the diocese did not adhere to either church or State . . . guidelines for notifying the Garda and the HSE of allegations of . . . sexual abuse."

"The second instance concerned the HSE audit questionnaire, sent to all bishops in October 2006. Completed by Bishop Magee, it was received from him by the HSE on January 3rd, 2007. He had given another assurance that Cloyne complied with required child protection practices. But, as the Minister put it on Wednesday, "The HSE records provide evidence that at a time that the audit questionnaire was completed, the diocese was in fact handling a complaint in relation to child abuse, which it had failed to notify to the HSE."

"Andrews said he believes that there is evidence that suggests Bishop Magee, as the responsible person, "did not faithfully report actual compliance with child protection procedures and the manner in which clerical sexual abuse allegations have been dealt with".

"He added that, in a post-Ferns inquiry environment, it is "unacceptable" that full and faithful reporting of child sexual abuse allegations should not take place.

In fact Bishop Magee had reported the allegation to the Gardai but they did not pass it on to the Health Service Executive. Patsy McGarry failed to mention this fact but it was reported in the Sunday Business Post article of 11 January 2009 "Gardai Didn’t Disclose Cloyne Abuse Complaint for Two Years".

No Charges Brought against Accused Priests by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)
Patsy McGarry also fails to mention a report in the Irish Examiner published three weeks previously "DPP Was Sent 4 Files on Priests but No Charges Brought" which included the following:

"Despite extensive Garda probes, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) decided that two priests in the Cloyne diocese accused of child abuse should not face criminal charges.  Gardaí confirmed that "full and thorough" investigations were carried out into each of the allegations levelled against Fr A and Fr B, both priests in the Cloyne diocese.  But after examining one substantial Garda file in relation to Fr A and three files in relation to Fr B, the DPP directed that neither priest should face criminal prosecution. The DPP's decisions were not made public. .............

[Garda] Supt [Pat] McCarthy confirmed that there are no current investigations relating to alleged child abuse by priests in the Cloyne diocese."

(2) Delay in Reporting Allegations to Gardai
(i) In relation to a complaint made by a woman against a priest in 1995 an Irish Examiner article dated 20 December 2008 (Diocese Did Not Report Priest to Gardai Despite Allegations) states:
According to National Board for Safeguarding Children, the committee raised doubts about the "quality of the alleged abuse" and the victim’s age. As the victim did not want to report the matter to gardaí, the diocese did not report it.

(ii) In relation to an allegation made by a young priest against another priest of the diocese in 2004 Irish Examiner article dated 20 December 2008 entitled Bishop:Withholding of Alleged Sex Abuser's Name 'Normal Policy' states that:
The diocese blamed the delay in reporting the abuse to gardaí on the ‘unwillingness’ of the complainant to talk to gardaí."In short, the attitude of the complainant was seen as the determining factor as to whether a complaint was reported or not. This is an obvious and concerning misunderstanding of what good child protection practices dictate," said Mr Elliott.


Prior to December 2008 the Gardai had submitted several files to the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to allegations against two priests of the Cloyne Diocese. In every case the Director stated that no criminal prosecution should be brought. In December 2008 Garda Superintendent Pat Carey confirmed that there were no current investigations relating to alleged child abuse by priests in the Cloyne diocese.

After Bishop Magee published the NBSC Report in December 2008 there were a spate of further criminal allegations - including one against the Bishop himself. It may be that Bishop Magee published the Report in the expectation that it would "heal the pain" of the alleged victims and "promote reconciliation" with them. If so, he was very much mistaken!

Recent Developments
(i) In June 2010 Fr Bill Bermingham, the priest with responsibility for ensuring child protection in the diocese, resigned from his post over his handling of an allegation of a clerical sex abuse. Fr Bermingham was criticised for making allegations of sexual abuse by a woman available to a priest whom she accused over abusing her as a young girl in the 1980s. Fr Bermingham originally defended his role saying he believed his actions in making unsigned notes of an interview with the complainant available to the accused priest were consistent with church and State guidelines in the area (i.e. that an accused person has the right to be told that allegations have been made against him). Fr Bermingham was correct in his view as was confirmed by none other than Ian Elliott - but not until a few months later. However his resignation was hyped by the media and must have added to the athmosphere of hysteria that surrounds the Cloyne controversy.

(ii) In October 2010 Father Brendan Wrixon a priest of the diocese of Cloyne, was charged with abuse of a youth in 1983. The DPP had previously ruled that no criminal prosecution should be brought in this case. However circumstances have changed - no doubt partly as a result of Bishop Magee's noble efforts at reconciliation. In November 2010 Fr Wrixon was given an 18 month suspended sentence for gross indecency - which consisted of mutual masturbation of a 16 year old youth. (He was "Father A" in Ian Elliot's report).

(iii) Also in October 2010, the DPP dismissed an allegation of reckless endangerment against the former Bishop who had been questioned by gardai during an investigation launched after a complaint by a retired school teacher. The teacher said he believed the former bishop had endangered children by failing to fully inform gardai of abuse complaints made against priests in the diocese. The DPP ruled that "there is no evidence as to the commission of an offence in respect of the issues raised". Well let's hope that Bishop Magee is pleased with that outcome!

(iv) In May 2011 Father Dan Duane a 73-year-old retired priest, who was on trial charged with indecently assaulting a woman 30 years ago when she was a teenager, was found not guilty by direction of the trial judge. (He was "Father B" in Ian Elliot's report). The trial judge, Sean Ó Donabháin, directed the jury to find Fr Duane not guilty. He said the delay by the woman in making her complaint was inexplicable, given that she was trained and worked in a profession which encouraged victims to make complaints, and which emphasised that complaints would be treated seriously when they were made. Judge Ó Donabháin said he had a worry about the delay in making the complaint, given that Fr Duane had established to his satisfaction that he shared the house where the assault was alleged to have occurred with a housekeeper and a curate. He said if the complaint had been made earlier these people could have been asked to make statements about it. The charge alleged that the assault occurred on dates between 1 September 1980, up to and including 1 April 1982, and Judge Ó Donnabháin said he could not understand why that period of time could not have been narrowed down.


In the early stages of child abuse hysteria in Ireland the Bishops - including John Magee himself - were prepared to defend the innocent even to the extent of suing newspapers and TV stations that published false allegations of child abuse. The Christian Brothers did likewise - at least to some extent. However the Sisters of Mercy grovelled from the beginning and went out of their way to apologise to people who were making, what were obviously, false claims. (Their rationale seems to be that false accusers are suffering deep pain and the way to heal their pain is to apologise to them.)

In 2004 two events combined to end all ecclesiastical resistance to false allegations. These were the appointment of Diarmuid Martin as Archbishop of Dublin in April and a further dramatic apology by the Merciful Sisters in May. After this the Bishops - led by Martin - abandoned any effort to defend their priests; in effect they adopted the policy of the nuns. This is what Bishop Magee did in December 2008 when he published a report that both slandered his own priests and made it impossible for them to sue the report's authors.

The effects of this policy of appeasement were catastrophic for Magee, for the Catholic Church and indeed for all falsely accused persons. Of course the Sisters disclaim all responsibility and blame the Bishops! In an article in the Irish Times on 14 November 2009, Patsy McGarry quotes Bishop Willie Walsh (a great admirer of Archbishop Martin):
He had been speaking recently to the leadership team of the Mercy congregation’s southern province, “women who have given their lives in the service of the church”, and who were “very broken, very sad”. They felt “let down by us, the bishops”.

Bishop Willie - like Martin - is a gutless wonder who never condemns false allegations of child abuse. So it is unlikely that the "very broken, very sad" Sisters whom he quotes, are blaming himself. Presumably they are blaming those Bishops who originally defended the innocent!

No doubt every ruling class becomes morally corrupt before it becomes extinct, but even a Franz Kafka would find it difficult to do justice to the decadence of the leadership of the Catholic Church in Ireland today!

Kafkaesque = "Marked by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger" (Wikipedia definition).

Rory Connor
24 May 2011

Guardian Apology to Bishop for Paedophile Ring Claim - 1994

Apology to Bishop of Cloyne John Magee by TV3 - 1999

Bishop John Magee - Not Co-Operating with Ian Elliott? - April 2008

Diocese Agrees to Give More Data on Clerical Child Sex Abuse Complaints, Irish Times - 22 April 2008

Bishop Magee Child Sex Abuse Report 'Too Hot to Handle', Sunday Tribune - 27 July 2008

Results of Child Protection Inquiry in Cloyne May Be Published, Irish Times - 18 December 2008

Publication of Report of the National Board for Safeguarding Children, December 2008

[Report Published] Church 'Cannot Be Trusted' With the Safety of Children, Irish Times - 20 December 2010

Pressure on Bishop To Quit [Publication of National Board for Safeguarding Children (NSBC) Report] - 20 December 2008

DPP Was Sent 4 Files On Priests But No Charges Brought, Irish Examiner - 20 December 2008

Diocese Did Not Report Priest to Gardaí Despite Allegations, Irish Examiner - 20 December 2008

Bishop: Withholding of Alleged Sex Abuser’s Name ‘Normal Policy’, Irish Examiner - 20 December 2008

Ex-Cloyne Priest Joins Calls for Bishop to Resign, Irish Examiner - 22 December 2008

Bishop Magee, The Sunday Tribune and Justine McCarthy - 28 December 2008

Child Report Dismissed by Diocese Committee, Irish Times - 6 January 2009

Letter Warned of 'Defamatory' Attributions in Abuse Report, Irish Times - 6 January 2009

'Persuasion' Behind The Scenes Brought Report To Light, Irish Times - 6 January 2009

Diocese Advisory Committee Was Appointed by Magee, Irish Examiner 7 January 2009

One in Four Says Diocesan Group's Letter Contemptible, Irish Times - 7 January 2009


Gardai Didn’t Disclose Cloyne Abuse Complaint for Two Years, Sunday Business Post - 11 January 2009

Embattled Bishop Still Has Support in Cloyne, Sunday Business Post - 11 January 2009

Statement by Archbishop Dermot Clifford on his appointment as Apostolic Administrator to the Cloyne Diocese - 7 March 2009

Ex-Cloyne Cleric Criticises Choice of ‘Bishop’s Friend’ as Successor, Irish Examiner - 9 March 2009

Cloyne Commission To Probe Possible Cover-ups - 7 June 2009

Cloyne Silent on 'Secret Trial' Claims, - 17 August 2009

Attempt to Block Cloyne Report? Irish Examiner - 28 November 2009

Murphy’s Law [Profile of Judge Yvonne Murphy], Sunday Business Post - 29 November 2009

Bishop on the Block, Irish Times - 10 January 2010

Statement from Bishop John Magee on his Resignation - 24 March 2010

Cardinal's Faith in his Fellow Bishop Proved Sorely Misplaced, Irish Times - 25 March 2010

Second Cork Priest Quizzed As Updated File Sent to DPP, Irish Examiner - 26 March 2010

Gardaí to Resubmit Altar Boy Abuse File, Irish Times - 26 March 2010

Bishop Magee Latest Senior Casualty of Church Crisis, Sunday Business Post - 28 March 2010

Autocratic Manner of Appointment of Bishop of Cloyne Remains a Mystery, Southern Star (Co. Cork) - 3 April 2010

File on Cloyne Priest Resubmitted to DPP, Irish Times - 22 May 2010

Resignation of Father Bill Bermingham, Child Protection Priest for Diocese of Cloyne by Breda O'Brien - 3 July 2010

Priest Who 'Tipped Off' Abuser Followed Church Guidelines, Sunday Tribune - 10 October 2010

Father Brendan Wrixon

Priest Charged With Abusing Boy, Irish Examiner (and others) - 12 and 13 October 2010

Bishop Not To Face Charges, Rules the DPP - 22 October 2010

Bishop May Have to Testify in Court, Irish Times - 1 November 2010

Victim Finally Receives Justice, Six Years After First Complaint, Irish Times - 13 November 2010

Priest Given 18-Month Suspended Sentence, Irish Times - 13 November 2010

Father Dan Duane

DPP Warns Clerical Abuse Support Group to Halt Calls for Prosecution, Irish Examiner - 27 November 2011

Cloyne Sex Abuse Inquiry Hampered by Breakdown in Communications, Sun Business Post - 2 Jan 2011

Eight Cloyne Clerical Abuse Files to be Resent to DPP, Irish Examiner - 21 January 2011

Priest Bailed Over Charges of Sexually Abusing Girls in 1980s, Irish Times - 23 February 2011

Fr Dan Duane: Woman's Claims Not True, Priest Tells Court - Irish Times, 17 May 2011

Retired Priest Cleared of Indecent Assault, RTE News - 17 May 2011

Fr Dan Duane: Priest Not Guilty of Indecent Assault - Irish Times - 18 May 2011

Rape Crisis Group Angry Over Judge’s Trial Comments, Irish Examiner - 19 May 2011

Rape Support Group Condemns Judge’s Comments in Alleged Assault Case, - 19 May 2011