Pope Accepts Irish Bishop’s Resignation in Abuse Scandal

By Rachel Donadio and Jack Healy
New York Times
March 24, 2010

VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday accepted the resignation of an Irish bishop accused of mishandling allegations of sexual abuse by priests, adding to the fallout of a scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church in Ireland and throughout Europe.

The bishop, John Magee, who served as private secretary to three popes, stepped down earlier this month as head of the diocese of Cloyne, in southern Ireland, following allegations that he had not disciplined priests known to have abused children.

Bishop John Magee

"As I depart, I want to offer once again my sincere apologies to any person who has been abused by any priest of the Diocese of Cloyne during my time as bishop or at any time," Bishop Magee said in a statement on Wednesday. "To those whom I have failed in any way, or through any omission of mine have made suffer, I beg forgiveness and pardon."

Bishop Magee's was the first resignation since the pope last weekend released a long-awaited letter to Irish Catholics apologizing to victims of sexual abuse and expressing "shame and remorse."

Yet Benedict's letter did not call for any church leaders to be disciplined, feeding a growing sense of anger in Ireland, where many Catholics are calling on the country's chief bishop, Sean Brady, to resign over his role as a young priest in the 1970s urging two children to sign secrecy agreements not to report abuse.

Benedict's letter came after two scathing Irish government reports released last year revealed decades of systematic sex abuse of hundreds of thousands of Irish children and a widespread cover-up of the problem. The revelations have shaken the Irish church to its core; some fear it has lost a generation to the crisis.

Bishop Magee's resignation was not unexpected, coming amid a steady drumbeat among Irish Catholics for more church leaders to step down.

Beyond Bishop Magee, four other Irish bishops named in the government reports have offered to resign, but Benedict has accepted only one of their requests.

Colm O'Gorman, founder of One In Four, a campaign group against clerical abuse, said that Bishop Magee's resignation was "a reminder that just because the church has policies that address child protection in Ireland does not mean that it is following its own guidelines."

Mr. O'Gorman, a survivor of sex abuse who is also an executive director of Amnesty International in Ireland, added that the bishop had resigned only after much pressure from victims groups. Mr. O'Gorman has called on the Irish government to extend its investigation to all 26 Irish dioceses.

As new revelations of sex abuse by priests continued to emerge in Benedict's native Germany, as well as Austria and the Netherlands, Mr. O'Gorman said that the Irish crisis "has lessons for other countries confronting clerical abuse."

In December 2008, an investigation by a church panel into abuse allegations in Cloyne found that Bishop Magee had failed to respond to charges of abuse by two priests and said that policies to protect children were severely lacking. The report set off a storm of calls for Bishop Magee's resignation.

Bishop Magee, 73, relinquished his administrative duties last March, but had retained his title.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Cloyne diocese, Father Jim Killeen, said that Bishop Magee had "taken personal responsibility" for the findings of the investigative panel, the National Body for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.

Bishop Magee has since been assisting a separate, government-sponsored investigation into Cloyne being conducted by Justice Yvonne Murphy, which last November published a damning account of priestly abuse and widespread cover-up in the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Bishop Magee will likely continue to perform pastoral work, the Cloyne diocese spokesman said.

At the Vatican, Bishop Magee was best known as the personal secretary who was among the first to find the body of Pope John Paul I, who died after a month in office in 1978. John Paul II named him bishop of Cloyne in 1987.


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