Minister Turns up Heat on Magee

By Mark Tighe
The Sunday Times

December 28, 2008

Barry Andrews will ask for cabinet approval to publish a Health Service Executive audit of church child-protection practices

The children’s minister may refer the diocese of Cloyne to a special commission of investigation after last week’s statement by Bishop John Magee, in which he accepted responsibility for not acting on complaints of clerical sex abuse but refused to resign.

Children's minister Barry Andrews.

A spokesman for Barry Andrews said yesterday that the minister will ask for cabinet approval on January 7 to publish a Health Service Executive audit of church child-protection practices, which has raised concerns about the Cloyne diocese.

Andrews is also considering asking the cabinet to refer the Cloyne cases to the Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation.

The inquiry’s terms of reference allow it to investigate any diocese referred to it which is suspected of not following official church guidelines or the recommendations of the Ferns report in 2005.

Andrews has already called on Magee to reflect on his position, and a decision to refer his diocese to the investigative commission would greatly add to the pressure on the bishop to resign.

Batt O’Keeffe, the education minister, has also asked Magee to “reflect” on his role as patron of over 100 national schools.

Yesterday Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four, a victims’ group, said that after the revelation that complaints had been mishandled in the diocese, Andrews was “duty bound” to have the commission investigate Cloyne.

“Following what we have learned, the only excuse I can see for not having the commission investigate Cloyne is that it would cost too much money,” she said.

On Wednesday, Magee said that he had learned from his mistakes and pledged to stay in his role.

The bishop read a statement to a midnight Christmas mass in Cobh in which he apologised and said he took “full responsibility” for the criticisms levelled in a report by National Board for Safeguarding Children, an agency set up by the Catholic church. He also maintained that he would take “full responsibility” for implementing changes in practices for handling future complaints, as recommended by the report.

The Dublin Archdiocese Commission of Investigation, headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy, is completing a two-year investigation into the church’s handling of sexual abuse allegations in Dublin between 1975 and 2004.

The commission, which holds it hearings in private, can report on matters “considered by the government to be of significant public concern”.

Lewis said: “The church has shown itself to be completely incapable of monitoring its own child-protection practices. We are extremely worried by the response of Bishop Magee and we do not think he is capable of ensuring the safety of children in his diocese.

“Barry Andrews should refer the entire matter to the Dublin archdiocese inquiry. We believe concerns about children should be prioritised and whatever the economic cost, it is nothing in terms of the cost in human suffering experienced by these children.”

Cloyne would be first additional Catholic diocese to be included in the commission’s remit if cabinet decides to refer the case.

Lewis said that One in Four is aware of a number of other dioceses where complainants said they were treated with a “confrontational” attitude by the church.

“Most dioceses are complying with the letter of the law with regard to reporting abuse but people who contact One in Four tell us they are met with adversarial, suspicious and legalistic response from bishops they report to,” said Lewis. “Cloyne is not alone in making it difficult for people to come forward to report abuse.”

The commission is due to issue its report on the Dublin cases at the end of January. In his statement, last week, Magee said: “We made errors, not intentionally, and I want to assure you that such errors will not be made again.

“In the future we will have a clerical environment which is as safe as it possibly can be for the children of this diocese. We have, I can assure you, been working to create such an environment.”


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