Cloyne Solution Was Vital to Rescue Church's Credibility

Irish Independent
March 9, 2009

What has happened to Bishop John Magee is extraordinarily rare in the Catholic Church. The appointment of an Apostolic Administrator to a given diocese when the sitting bishop is still technically in place and is not physically or mentally incapacitated, almost never happens.

This is an indication of the extreme seriousness with which Rome views the situation in Cloyne following the latest mismanagement of child abuse allegations.

The new Apostolic Administrator of Cloyne is Dr Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly. The current Bishop of Cloyne, John Magee, has moved to one side. He will retain his title but will have no function as bishop, not even that of performing Confirmations.

As Apostolic Administrator, Dermot Clifford is the Bishop of Cloyne to all intents and purposes. One of the only powers he lacks is to buy and sell property. In a recession that is not likely to be one he will need.

The most recent example of an Apostolic Administrator being appointed to a diocese in Ireland was the appointment of Bishop Eamonn Walsh to Ferns following the resignation of Bishop Brendan Comiskey in 2002. However, in that case the appointment followed a resignation. This time there has been no resignation but an Apostolic Administrator has been appointed all the same. This is what makes it so rare and indicates the gravity of the situation.

According to the official press release from the Cloyne diocese, Bishop Magee sent a request to Rome on February 4 asking it to appoint an administrator. Bishop Magee's official reason for making the request is that he must now devote all his time to cooperating with the State inquiry into the aforementioned child abuse allegations.

But the real reason is clearly that he has lost all credibility. Let's remind ourselves of the events that led to this dramatic and welcome development. Just before Christmas, a report by the Church's own child protection body, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, was finally published. It dealt with how Cloyne had responded to two recent allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests.

The report was extremely damning and immediately Bishop Magee faced calls for his resignation. But he decided to hang tough. This was disastrous for the Church. Two official investigations into abuse by priests and religious are shortly to be published. One is the investigation into clerical abuse in the Dublin diocese, and the second is the investigation into abuse in industrial schools.

Until the Cloyne controversy the Church's line was that it has learnt from the scandals and has put in place excellent child protection procedures which were being properly implemented.

Cloyne threw this into serious doubt. It now appeared that, however good the new child protection standards were in theory, they were being unevenly implemented in practice. More crucially, even when it was discovered that they were not being properly implemented, as was the case with Cloyne, there was no real accountability. Therefore Bishop Magee's decision to hang on was very bad for the Church and very demoralising for ordinary Catholics.

The collateral damage was almost immediately apparent. Shortly after the Cloyne controversy broke, Cardinal Sean Brady, the most senior churchman on the island, was asked whether Bishop Magee should resign, and he said he should not. You could instantly sense the moral authority draining from the Cardinal.

However, it is now evident that there has since been a lot of activity behind the scenes and the Cardinal was almost certainly involved in it. It is extremely unlikely that the Vatican would have agreed to the extraordinary measure of appointing an Apostolic Administrator to Cloyne, even at the sitting bishop's request, without consulting senior Irish churchmen about it first, and that would have to include Cardinal Brady.

What has happened is absolutely vital from the Church's point of view. Its new child protection guidelines, Safeguarding Children, are good, and are probably better than the State's equivalent, Children First. But, as with the State's guidelines, they are really only as good as those implementing them. Bishop Magee did not implement the predecessor to Safeguarding Children, Our Children Our Church, as he should have and there had to be a serious consequence.

Now that he has stood aside the public knows that if the new child protection guidelines are not properly adhered to by the Church, even a bishop will resign. That means there is proper accountability at last.

Also, even though he retains for the time being the title of Bishop of Cloyne, Dr John Magee, former private secretary to three popes, will never again, in practice, be the bishop of his diocese.

At 72, he is close to the official retirement age of 75 in any case, but what will almost certainly happen now is that once the State inquiry into these latest child abuse allegations is completed, he will formally take early retirement, and a successor bishop will be installed with a clean slate.

It is an altogether good thing for the Church, for the credibility of its child protection standards, and, above all, for the children in its care that this has happened.



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