Email Us My Blog

Autocratic Manner of Appointment of Bishop of Cloyne Remains a Mystery

The Southern Star (Co. Cork), April 3rd, 2010 by Archon

THE sin was not in the decline and fall of Bishop John Magee, but rather in the autocratic way the Vatican treated the diocese of Cloyne when making the decision to appoint him as bishop. That is, if recent stories are to be believed.

The appointment, it seems, was mired in a Byzantine-type conspiracy with a plot that put the Da Vinci Code to shame.

According to John Cooney, the Irish Independent’s religious affairs correspondent, in 1985 Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich was considering the question of who would succeed the incumbent Bishop of Cloyne, John Ahern.

Canon Denis O’Callaghan was the widely-tipped successor. He was Parish Priest of Mallow and former Professor of Moral Theology at Maynooth. (There was also another hat in the ring – that of Fr Eamonn Gould, a member of the staff of St Colman’s College in Fermoy. Both were well-known in the diocese and popular with fellow clergy and people).

In the event, neither got a look-in. Cardinal O Fiaich had bigger fish to fry, namely Fr Gerard McGinnity, a priest of the Armagh archdiocese and a Junior Dean at Maynooth University. He had come to O Fiaich’s attention after he reported complaints of students against the vice-president, Mgr. Michael Ledwith, relating to inappropriate sexual behaviour.

“It was a potentially dangerous scandal within the college that threatened to become public,” writes Cooney.

The Cardinal entered into private consultations with the Papal Nuncio, Gaetano Alibrandi, and the two came up with a plan: McGinnity would be named as the ‘most-favoured candidate for Cloyne’, and that would shut him up. Ledwith would be elevated to the presidency of Maynooth and that would end ‘rumours’ of his night walking habits. Everything boxed off.

The private pact between the cardinal and the nuncio was a ‘done deal’, says Cooney. “McGinnity was going to be the next Bishop of Cloyne”.

Only it didn’t work out that way because Pope John Paul II scuppered the plan. To the horror of O Fiaich and Alibrandi, he added John Magee to the candidates’ list. On March 17, 1987, he ordained him Bishop of Cloyne.

Cooney argues that the Pope’s decision to send Magee, a sophisticated Vatican bureaucrat, to Cloyne remains a mystery of huge proportions. He suggests that “John Paul II was increasingly unhappy with Magee”, a personal secretary to three popes and privy to the Vatican’s innermost secrets. He also states that Magee had never sought the bishopric of Cloyne.

In fact, Cooney hints that Magee was exiled, forced to abandon his Roman lifestyle and beautiful villa inside the walls of the Vatican. The Pope cast him into a cold, damp, rundown house, euphemistically called a palace; and into a diocese where the priests and people did not want him.

Why, asks Cooney, did the Pope become unhappy with John Magee? The Indo insider doesn’t tell us and provides no clues, although he adds cryptically that the former bishop holds a secret he may yet take to the grave.

Ah, the mystery, the Indo mystery!

However, there was no secret at all surrounding the subsequent careers of whistleblower Fr McGinnity and Mgr Ledwith.

Fr Gerard McGinnity was forced out of his university post, a victim of Episcopal injustice. He returned to his diocese with his career in ruins. Mgr Ledwith duly became college president of Maynooth University but, in the mid-1990s, he suddenly resigned, having agreed to a financial settlement without liability with a man who alleged he had abused him as a minor.

For several years, nothing was heard of Ledwith until he surfaced in 2002 as a ‘guru’ promoting a weirdo religion on the west coast of the United States. The cult is known as the School of Enlightenment and Ancient Wisdom and was founded by a Tacoma housewife, Judith Knight.

Ledwith’s website encourages devotees to embrace the wisdom of Ramtha, a Mexican godlike warrior and giant who appeared to Judith Knight in her kitchen, declaring: “Beloved woman, I am the Enlightened One and I have come to help you over the ditch.”

Instructing the gullible in how to follow the teachings of an outlandish half-human deity turned Ledwith into a wealthy man. (We can assume that his training as Professor of Catholic Dogmatic Theology and his experience as college president also came in handy).

However, in today’s Irish Church, not all priests are as successful as Mgr Ledwith. As one goes up in the world, another comes crashing down – for which reason people in the Cloyne diocese were careful not to contribute unnecessarily to Bishop Magee’s pain, and to the fact that he was now “unfellowed, friendless and alone.”

Some gathered in an old fashioned Queenstown drawing room that looked onto the huge, redundant, neo-gothic cathedral that dominated the skyline. They came to discuss the implications of his exit and to consider whether the damage done to Catholic moral teaching was irreparable.

The sense of betrayal was palpable, if subdued. Why did the bishops abdicate their authority and become complicit in the cover-up of monstrous wrongdoing, they asked

A discerning gentleman wondered if the effort to protect the public reputation of Catholicism sprung from the bishops’ misunderstanding of their own pastoral responsibilities. A lady wanted to know what part of the Gospel justified silence for the sake of a Church that tolerated the sexual molestation of children.

“Was it really possible,” a retired postman quietly observed, “that the effort to preserve the Church from criticism had its origins in a Pope-sponsored policy of silence? Because if that’s the case, we're faced with an appalling vista: the credibility of the Catholic faith itself.”

“Or,” commented a grocer’s assistant, “is there something else underlying clerical child abuse? Is it possible that homosexuality is more prevalent among priests than is acknowledged and that this might be the reason why Church authorities were reluctant to expose those who abused children?”

“You have a point,” exclaimed a gentleman well-versed in Papal affairs. “The influence of homosexuality in seminaries was a matter discussed in Rome in 2002 between representatives of the US bishops’ conference and top Vatican officials. But, faced with a barrage of criticism, the gist of which was that the sex-abuse crisis could not be attributed to homosexual priests, the American bishops backed off. That was a pity.”

The debate went on and on until eventually those present could take no more of predatory priests, the betrayal of trust, and the suffering of young victims. The horror was too overwhelming and an end was called so that they could head for the normality of the ‘Roaring Donkey.’ There, they drowned their despair.