Cloyne Saga Began with Complaint to One in Four Religious Affairs Correspondent

By Patsy McGarry
The Irish Times
March 9, 2009

Bishop of Cloyne John Magee celebrating Mass in St Colman's Cathedral, Cobh on Saturday evening.
Photo by Michael MacSweeney/Provision

THE BACKGROUND: THE APPOINTMENT of Archbishop Dermot Clifford as Apostolic Administrator of Cloyne diocese is but the latest development in an ongoing saga which began in September 2007.

Then a Cloyne priest contacted the One in Four group to complain about how his allegation of abuse by another priest of the diocese had been handled by the authorities there, particularly by Bishop Magee.

One in Four reported this to the health authorities and, at a meeting in the Department of Health and Children on February 15th, 2008, two officials informed Ian Elliott, chief executive of the Catholic Church watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland (NBSC).

The meeting took place to update the department on ongoing NBSC initiatives where best practice in safeguarding children in the church was concerned. The officials asked Elliott to investigate and let them know what he uncovered.

On February 20th, 2008, Elliott went to Cloyne for a prearranged meeting but was provided with “incomplete and insufficient” information on the case. He wrote to Bishop Magee requesting full disclosure.

On April 7th, the NBSC was contacted about another Cloyne case, this time by Faoiseamh, the helpline set up by the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori). It involved a woman who alleged regular rape by a Cloyne priest over a five and a half year period, from when she was 13, which had also been reported to the diocese.

Following the accumulation of more information, and meetings with Bishop Magee and relevant authorities in Cloyne diocese, Elliott had completed his report on both cases by June 30th last.

It found that child protection practices in the diocese were “inadequate and in some respects dangerous”. It found that the diocese had not informed gardai for eight years after it became aware of the identity of an alleged abuser priest in one case and after six months in the other case. It also found there was a policy of supplying minimal information to civil authorities in such cases.

On July 9th, the Cloyne’s Case Management Advisory Committee wrote to the NBSC threatening legal action if the report was published.

Forwarding the report to the Minister for Children, Barry Andrews, on August 18th last, Elliott sought “an unconditional indemnity”. No indemnity was forthcoming. Andrews forwarded the report to the Health Service Executive, as the appropriate State body.

On December 19th, the weekend before Christmas, the NBSC report was published on the Cloyne diocese website accompanied by a statement from Bishop Magee in which he apologised, took responsibility for what had happened and promised to oversee implementation of NBSC recommendations for child protection practices in the diocese. Reaction to the report was strong and very negative with many calls for the bishop to resign both from within and beyond the church.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin suggested Bishop Magee do what was in the best interests of child protection in Cloyne.

Bishop Willie Walsh said Bishop Magee should consider his position as did Andrews.

Fr Michael Mernagh, on a walk of atonement from Cloyne to Dublin, received a lot of attention. He was greeted on his arrival at Dublin’s Pro Cathedral on January 6th by Archbishop Martin.

A survey of bishops on January 9th revealed support for Bishop Magee among some colleagues, including the Archbishops of Cashel and Tuam.

On January 13th, they were joined by Cardinal Sean Brady who said that in the many years he had known Bishop Magee he had found him “reliable” and “dependable”.

Archbishop Martin kept his counsel.

An emergency meeting of the Irish Episcopal Conference on the matter took place on January 23rd. On February 4th, according to weekend statements, Bishop Magee requested that Pope Benedict appoint an Apostolic Administrator to Cloyne diocese.

On February 6th, Archbishop Martin visited Rome with Our Lady’s Choral Society, accompanied by the RTE Concert Orchestra, who performed Handel’s Messiah for the Pope.

Last Saturday, it was announced that Archbishop Dermot Clifford had been appointed Apostolic Administrator of Cloyne diocese.


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