Bay Head Parish Priest Arrested in Ireland

By Michael Amsel
Asbury Park Press
January 4, 2004

BAY HEAD - Residents of this seaside borough and neighboring communities expressed shock and disbelief yesterday after learning that the Rev. Patrick Francis Magee, pastor of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church here, was arrested in Ireland on charges of sexually abusing a child more than 30 years ago, authorities say.

Magee is charged with "committing an act of gross indecency on or towards a child" between Jan. 1, 1965 and Dec. 31, 1969 in Northern Ireland and was arrested Wednesday while vacationing in Ireland, where he was visiting family members, according to the Diocese of Trenton.

"He called me on New Year's Eve and told me when he arrived home (in Ireland) police were waiting at his door," said Bishop John Smith of the Diocese of Trenton. "He said someone had come forward and made the charge against him. He was very upset, very apologetic for any hurt he may have caused people of the parish he loves."

Magee surrendered his passport and must check in with police twice a week until his hearing next month.

Calling the situation "very unique," Smith said if Magee is found guilty, the Diocesan Review Board will "go with the findings" and remove Magee from active priesthood.

"This is a very sad period, but we have to work our way through it," said Smith, who attended yesterday's 5:15 p.m. Mass at Sacred Heart to comfort parishioners. "We must have sympathy for all of the parties involved because this is a very serious charge."

Dabbing her eyes with a tissue, tears streaming down her cheeks, Sally Simmons said she could not believe the charge.

"This is so incredibly sad," said Simmons, clutching the arm of her husband, Thomas. "I just can't believe it. He is a very learned, very intelligent man and I really enjoyed his sermons. He has a great sense of humor."

"I am just shocked that something like this could happen to such a compassionate man," Thomas Simmons said. "If it didn't happen, then this is a very vicious thing."

Betty Hurley of Bay Head has been attending Sacred Heart for more than 30 years and was married there in 1979. Like many of the parishioners who attended yesterday's Mass, Hurley was shaken by the news.

"He is a fine man and he has done so much for the community," Hurley said. "When I first heard he was arrested, I thought maybe he had partied too much or had been speeding. But a sexual offense ... no, not Reverend Magee."

Magee worked at St. Martha's Roman Catholic Church in Point Pleasant for nearly 20 years before being assigned to Sacred Heart two years ago.

Madeline Gardella, a regular churchgoer at St. Martha's, said Magee "doesn't fit the profile" of a child molester.

"He was so concerned about the parish and the children. " said Gardella, of Brick. "He was very interested in the well-being of children. When something like this happens so very long ago, you have to wonder if it is true. Who knows what really happened?"

Gardella fondly recalled a Christmas Eve Mass at St. Martha's when Magee sang holiday songs to the children, and all the children would sing along with him. "It was so wonderful, so beautiful to behold," she said.

The Rev. Thomas Olsen of Point Pleasant is filling in for Magee at Sacred Heart while charges are being investigated, churchgoers said. Olsen was not available for comment yesterday.


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