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Cardinal's Faith in his Fellow Bishop Proved Sorely Misplaced

The Irish Times, March 25, 2010 by Patsy McGarry and Paddy Agnew

ANALYSIS: Prelate who was secretary to three popes won the support of three archbishops, even in the face of mounting revelations as to how he mishandled allegations of clerical abuse

THE CATHOLIC primate Cardinal Seán Brady must be wondering now at the wisdom of that question he posed at the end of his St Patrick’s Day sermon in Armagh last week.

“The Lord is calling us to a new beginning. None of us knows where that new beginning will lead. Does it allow for wounded healers, those who have made mistakes in their past to have a part in shaping the future?” he asked.

The Vatican’s announcement yesterday that it has accepted the resignation of Bishop John Magee suggests an answer.
This is the same Bishop John Magee on whom Cardinal Brady lavished such support at the height of the Cloyne crisis in January of last year.

The cardinal said then: “I have known John Magee for almost 50 years and I have always found him a reliable and dependable person. I know trust has been damaged, but trust can be restored and built up and even earned by genuine steps being taken to address the issues and the concerns of victims.”

Cardinal Brady was not alone. Similar support also came from two of the three other Catholic archbishops in Ireland: Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam. For his part, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin chose silence.

Bishop Magee’s downfall began in September 2007 when a priest of Cloyne diocese complained to One in Four about how his allegation of abuse by another priest in the diocese was handled, particularly by Bishop Magee.

In April 2008 another case emerged through Cori’s Faoiseamh helpline concerning a woman who alleged rape by a Cloyne priest over a five-and-a-half-year period, from when she was 13, and which had been reported to the diocese.

The Catholic Church child protection watchdog the National Board for Safeguarding Children (NBSC), which Bishop Magee helped set up in 2006, then investigated child protection practices in Cloyne and found them to be “inadequate, and in some respects dangerous”.

It also found the diocese had not informed gardaí for eight years after it became aware of the identity of one alleged abuser priest and after six months in the other case.

It further established that there was a policy in Cloyne of supplying minimal information to gardaí and other civil authorities in such cases.

On December 19th, 2008, the NBSC report was published on the Cloyne diocese website.
In January 2009, it also emerged that Bishop Magee had twice “misled” the State on Cloyne child protection policies. He did so in November 2005 and in January 2007 when he assured State agencies that Cloyne fully complied with church and State guidelines.

In neither case was it true.

This is the man in whom his fellow bishops protested such confidence.

On January 7th last year it was announced that the Government had extended the remit of the Murphy commission to Cloyne diocese.

Its report is expected at the end of this year.

On March 7th last year it was announced that Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel had been appointed apostolic administrator of Cloyne diocese with Bishop Magee remaining on to assist the Murphy commission with its inquiries.
It is understood his resignation was submitted to Pope Benedict XVI two weeks ago.

Bishop Magee would have been due to retire in September of next year, when he reached the age of 75.

Contacted yesterday by The Irish Times , senior Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi suggested the reasons for Bishop Magee’s resignation were “obvious”.

He added: “I would point out too that he has offered his full collaboration to the ongoing government inquiry in his diocese.”
Bishop Magee occupies a remarkable place in Vatican annals in that he was private secretary to three pontiffs – Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II.  History, however, is more likely to remember his huge “white lie” in relation to the death of John Paul I in September 1978.

It is now accepted that the dead pope was found by Sr Vincenza, a nun in the papal household. Senior Vatican figures felt, however, that it would be inappropriate to say a nun had been in the pope’s bedroom early in the morning.

So Bishop Magee was called on to say he was the first person to find the dead pope.

However, in an RTÉ radio interview in 1990, he as much as admitted the truth, saying, “I did find the body of His Holiness. I just didn’t find it first.”