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Updated: March 24, 2010 19:24 IST

Irish bishop resigns, apologises to abuse victims

AP
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This is an undated file photo of Irish Bishop John Magee. The Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Bishop John Magee in the country's sex abuse scandal. Photo: AP.
This is an undated file photo of Irish Bishop John Magee. The Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Bishop John Magee in the country's sex abuse scandal. Photo: AP.

Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation on Wednesday of Bishop John Magee, a former papal aide who stands accused of endangering children by failing to follow the Irish church’s own rules on reporting suspected paedophile priests to the police.

Bishop Magee apologized to victims of any paedophile priests who were kept in parish posts since he took charge of the southwest Irish diocese of Cloyne in 1987.

“To those whom I have failed in any way, or through any omission of mine have made suffer, I beg forgiveness and pardon,” the 73—year—old Magee said in a statement.

The Pope on Saturday published an unprecedented letter to the Irish church criticizing some of its bishops for mishandling child—abuse cases. It accepted no Vatican responsibility for the decades of cover—up.

Pope Benedict also has yet to accept resignation offers from three other Irish bishops who were linked to cover—ups of child—abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese, the subject of a major government—ordered investigation that published its findings four months ago.

Bishop Magee, however, had been expected to resign ever since a Catholic Church—commissioned investigation into the mishandling of child—abuse reports in Cloyne ruled two years ago that Bishop Magee and his senior diocesan aides failed to tell police quickly about two 1990s cases.

The church and government suppressed publication of that report’s findings until December 2008, when Bishop Magee faced immediate calls to quit from victims’ rights activists and some parishioners. They accused him of ignoring an Irish church policy enacted in 1996 requiring all abuse cases to be reported to the police.

Bishop Magee remained Cloyne bishop in name but handed over day—to—day responsibilities to his superior, Archbishop Dermot Clifford, in March 2009.

“I wish him all God’s blessings in his retirement,” Archbishop Clifford said of Bishop Magee. “I ask for the continued prayers and support of the lay faithful, priests and religious of the diocese of Cloyne for all those who have suffered abuse.”

Separately, the state investigators who reported on the Dublin cover—ups have turned their sole attention to Cloyne and are expected to report their own conclusions later this year. Bishop Magee said he would remain available to answer their questions.

The church’s Cloyne report found that Bishop Magee and his diocesan deputies fielded a range of complaints from parishioners about two priests from 1995 onwards - but told the police nothing until 2003 and little thereafter. The report said Cloyne church authorities appeared to be solely concerned about helping the two priests, not protecting children of the diocese.

One priest, who was accused of molesting a younger priest when he was just a boy, was encouraged by Bishop Magee to resign. But the investigation found that the bishop shielded the abuser’s identity from the police - and considered such concealment “the normal practice” for the church.

The other priest, a career guidance counsellor in a convent school, was accused by several teenage girls and grown women of molesting or raping them since 1995. One complaint came from a woman who had a consensual sexual relationship with the priest for a year - then saw him develop an intimate relationship with her teenage son.

The church has declined to identify the two priests publicly by name. Neither has faced any criminal charges.

Bishop Magee, who was born in the Northern Ireland border town of Newry, served as a private secretary to three successive popes - Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II - from 1969 to 1982. He then served as the pope’s master of ceremonies until 1987.

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