Toms River Bureau

By Richard Quinn
Asbury Park Press
December 21, 2004

BAY HEAD — A Catholic priest formerly accused of sexual abuse — the charges were dropped three months ago after the accuser committed suicide — has asked the Diocese of Trenton to put him back in the borough parish he used to lead.

The Rev. Patrick Francis Magee, who was pastor at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic parish until the charges surfaced, met with Bishop John M. Smith last week and "asked to return to his assignment in Bay Head," diocesan spokeswoman Audra Miller said in a statement released Monday.

Magee's move was expected since the charges were dropped and he was allowed to return to the United States from Ireland. The diocese would put no timetable on when a decision will be made on his request.

.Magee's case began in December 2003, when he was arrested in Ireland. He was visiting family in County Down, Northern Ireland, when a man accused him of sexual abuse in incidents said to have occurred there more than 30 years ago. Magee was a seminary student at the time, according to the Trenton diocese.

Magee was arrested and charged with "an act of gross indecency on or toward a child" between Jan. 1, 1965, and Dec. 31, 1969. He was free on bail, but was forced to relinquish his passport and has remained in Northern Ireland.

But in early August, the priest's unnamed accuser committed suicide.

Seven weeks later, the charges were dropped.

Magee recently returned to the United States and approached the bishop, Miller said.

"Bishop Smith has referred the request to the Diocesan Review Board for investigation and recommendation," Miller said in the statement. "In the interim, (Father) Magee is working under the direction and supervision of (Father) Thomas Mullelly at the Aquinas Institute."

The Aquinas Institute is a spiritual center affiliated with and just off the Princeton University campus, Miller said. The college is on its winter break and no one answered the institute's phone Monday.

Miller would not comment on what specific duties Magee is performing at the institute, but noted that he is allowed to celebrate Mass and take care of other pastoral duties.

"Father Magee's faculties were never removed," Miller said in an interview. "He was never barred from practicing as a priest."

Monday's news was expected by many parishioners, including William Harrison, 72, a communicant at Sacred Heart and a Bay Head resident.

"We've been praying for it for a long time," Harrison said. "You just hoped and prayed he would come back. It was hard for us to believe it was happening. We're just hoping he will return to us."

Magee had been pastor at the Bay Head parish for about two years before he was arrested. He had spent nearly 20 years before that at St. Martha's Roman Catholic Church in Point Pleasant.

Since February, the Rev. Michael Waites has been the interim administrator of the church. Harrison said congregants like Waites, but miss their pastor.

"Father Waites is a great guy," he said. "But we're waiting for Father Magee."


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