Magee's Resignation Is a Positive Step

The Times
March 7, 2009

Shamed bishop has been replaced by an apostolic administrator

The resignation of Bishop John Magee from the diocese of Cloyne is regrettable, but necessary. It emerged yesterday that Rev Magee effectively tendered his resignation to the Vatican on February 5 and, given the seriousness of the criticism made about the performance of his duties in Cloyne, the only surprise is how long it took the pope to replace him.

It is also somewhat mystifying that Rev Magee will retain the title of Bishop of Cloyne, and has been replaced only by an apostolic administrator, a temporary stand-in. One presumes these are mere fig leafs designed to cover both the church’s and Rev Magee’s embarrassment. While the Catholic church may pretend the bishop is merely planning “to devote the necessary time and energy to co-operating fully with the government’s commission of inquiry into child-protection practices” in Cloyne, it is unthinkable that a diocese will ever be again be put in his care.

Thus ends yet another shameful chapter in the recent history of the Catholic church in Ireland. As usual, all the right noises are being made by senior prelates to the effect that this will never happen again. “I believe this represents a major shift in the attitude of the Catholic bishops to child protection within the church,” said Cardinal Sean Brady yesterday. “The bishops are sending a clear message that the safety of children is now a priority.”

In fact, those guidelines are not wholly satisfactory. As pointed out by One in Four, a key advocacy group, they contain an unacceptable plan to have a bishop’s “designated delegate” conduct a preliminary internal inquiry before deciding if an allegation of child abuse should be passed to civil authorities. Church personnel are unqualified and undeserving of such a screening role. Self-monitoring regimes within the church, including the one in Cloyne, have proven inadequate in the past. Given its appalling record on child protection, the church cannot be allowed to operate such a screening system. It must be forced to pass all allegations of child abuse made against priests, no matter how trivial, to either the gardai or the Health Service Executive.

Maeve Lewis, One in Four’s executive director, said last week we must “wait and see if the bishops and the congregational leaders can show that the learning curve has ended and that they are ready to place the safety of children above the interests of the . . . church”. Indeed we must, but the church itself lauds sinners who repent and start again. The resignation of Rev Magee is a positive indicator, because as recently as 20 years ago no Irish bishop would have contemplated bowing to political and public pressure by surrendering his position.


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