Charges against Priest Dropped Bay Head Man's Accuser in U.K. Killed Himself

By Joseph Picard
Asbury Park Press
October 2, 2004

SEXUAL abuse charges against the Rev. Patrick Magee of Bay Head have been dropped by prosecutors in Northern Ireland, seven weeks after the priest's accuser committed suicide, according to the Northern Ireland Court Service Press Office.

Charges were dropped against Magee, 63, Sept. 22 after prosecutors decided that, without their key witness, their case was insufficient, the press officer said.

"We can confirm through the Newry Magistrate's Court that the charges against Father Magee were dropped by the Northern Ireland Office of Public Prosecutions," said Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Trenton, which oversees Sacred Heart Roman Catholic parish in Bay Head, where Magee served as pastor until his arrest Dec. 31, 2003.

"We consider this the answer to our prayers," said William Harrison, a Bay Head resident and communicant at Sacred Heart. "Of course, we would have preferred that a court had cleared him. But we know he's innocent and we're happy the charges have been dropped. Now we'd like him to come home and be our pastor again."

Magee was visiting family in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland, when a man accused him of sexual abuse in incidents said to have occurred there more than 30 years ago. Police arrested Magee and charged him with "an act of gross indecency on or toward a child" between Jan. 1, 1965, and Dec. 31, 1969.

Magee, free on bail, was forced to relinquish his passport and has remained in Northern Ireland since his arrest, while court officials were deciding whether to bring his case before a judge or a judge and jury.

In early August, however, the priest's unnamed accuser committed suicide, which set the stage for dropping the charges.

Magee is still in County Down and it is not known when he may be returning to the United States.

Miller from the Diocese of Trenton said the diocese is reaching out to investigators and prosecutors in Northern Ireland to discuss the Magee case in detail. While declining to speak about Magee's future within the diocese, Miller noted that Magee has never been removed as pastor at Sacred Heart, a post he has held since 2002.

Betty Hurley, widow of former Bay Head Mayor Michael Hurley and a communicant at Sacred Heart, said the decision to restore or not restore Magee to his parish is up to the bishop of Trenton.

"He was such a fine, outgoing priest, I just could not believe he could be guilty of such a thing," Hurley said.

With Magee detained in Ireland, the diocese Feb. 6 assigned the Rev. Michael Waites, formerly of St. Denis Church in Manasquan, to serve as interim parish administrator.

Before coming to Sacred Heart, Magee served as a priest for 20 years at St. Martha's Church in Point Pleasant.


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