Bay Head Pastor Faces Sex Charges

By Maryann Spoto
January 3, 2004

The pastor of a Catholic church in Bay Head has been arrested in Ireland on charges of sexually abusing a child there more than 30 years ago, authorities confirmed yesterday.

The Rev. Patrick Francis Magee, the gregarious pastor of Sacred Heart Church, was arrested Wednesday while vacationing in Ireland, said Steven Emery, spokesman for the Diocese of Trenton.

Emery said Magee called Bishop John M. Smith, head of the Diocese of Trenton, Wednesday night to inform him of the allegations and his arrest.

The allegations, Emery said, date to when Magee was a seminary student, studying to become a priest in Ireland.

Magee is charged with "committing an act of gross indecency on or towards a child on a date unknown between Jan. 1, 1965, and Dec. 31, 1969, in the Armagh and South Down area" of Northern Ireland, according to the Newry Democrat, a newspaper there. He also was charged with indecently assaulting a child during that same period, according to the report.

At his first court appearance on New Year's Eve, Magee was ordered to surrender his passport and report to police twice a week. He has another hearing scheduled for Feb. 25 in Newry's Magistrates Court, according to published reports.

Emery said Magee will face the Diocesan Review Board when he returns to the United States to determine what actions might be taken against him. He said that since the priest sexual abuse scandal hit the Catholic Church in the past two years, the Diocese of Trenton went back 50 years in its review of such allegations and found none that involved Magee.

If found guilty, Magee, who turns 63 on Wednesday, would immediately be removed from his ministry and prohibited from presenting himself as a priest, said Buddy Cotton, New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"Any credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor has one result - permanent removal from a ministry," Cotton said.

Parishioners and acquaintances of Magee said he is a very affable, hardworking man who often broke into storytelling or song in his heavy Irish brogue.

Born in County Down, Ireland, Magee was ordained June 13, 1970, in Ireland, where he often returns to visit family, said the Rev. John Banbrick, pastor of St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Manalapan and legislative director of SNAP.

"He's about as extroverted as a human being can be," Banbrick said of the priest known as Paddy Magee. "He is extremely funny. Very, very gregarious. He is known to break out in song during Mass or any other event."

At a Mass celebrated by a newly ordained priest several years ago, Magee interrupted the service to sing his version of "Get Me To The Church On Time" with some of the words changed to refer to the new priest, Banbrick said.

He said that if the church follows the policies set by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Diocese in dealing with Magee and the alleged victim, "justice will be had all around."

Before heading to Sacred Heart two years ago, Magee was assigned to St. Martha's Roman Catholic Church in Point Pleasant for nearly 20 years. He is credited with building St. Martha's from its fledgling days to accommodate the sudden influx of residents in the Brick-Point Pleasant area.

Sacred Heart parishioner William Harrison said he was shocked by the allegations. He said Magee made many improvements, including a new sound system and new kitchen, in the short time he has headed the church of nearly 600 parishioners.

"He is regarded very highly here and at St. Martha's," he said. "He built that church from nothing. He's a fun guy, a very laughable guy, but he's got a very strong religious side to him."


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