Bishop John Magee was yesterday sacked by Pope Benedict XVI in order to save the Catholic Church from further embarrassment when new details of deficiencies in the diocese of Cloyne emerge next summer.
Speaking in his evening mass in Cobh yesterday, Magee confirmed he is effectively no longer in control of diocesan affairs. Cloyne has been rocked by complaints of clerical child abuse and critical findings that responses from Magee failed to follow existing child protection guidelines.
Archbishop Dermot Clifford, of adjoining diocese Cashel and Emly, has been appointed apostolic caretaker “assuming all the powers and duties of the Bishop of Cloyne”. Magee will remain the bishop in name only, and temporarily. He said: “I shall certainly give Archbishop Clifford every support and assistance and shall keep him in my daily masses and prayers,” adding that he was “grateful” for Clifford’s appointment.
The move is redolent of Dr Éamonn Walsh’s appointment as apostolic administrator of Ferns in 2002, after the resignation of Dr Brendan Comiskey, before the state inquiry into the Wexford diocese had been completed.
The Holy See’s ambassador to Ireland, Italian-born Papal Nuncio Dr Giuseppe Leanza, was central to highly secretive moves behind the scenes to remove Magee after the Co Cork-based bishop refused to resign. Leanza, an experienced diplomat and former Vatican colleague of Dublin archbishop Dr Diarmuid Martin, took up his post in Ireland last April.
Rome is understood to have run out of patience with Magee’s intransigence last January when the government instructed the Dublin Commission of Investigation to examine Cloyne’s handling of clerical sex abuse complaints. Magee’s superiors expect that the commission, led by Judge Yvonne Murphy, will hear evidence, much of it backed up with documentation of more incompetence, inadequate responses and broken promises to abuse victims. There is disquieting evidence that the diocese failed to monitor priests who were the subjects of complaints. Last July, an explosive report on Cloyne by Ian Elliott, chief executive of the church-financed National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, was submitted to Bishop Magee and to minister for children Barry Andrews.,/p>
Elliott’s report on Cloyne’s handling of complaints of child sexual abuse against two of the diocese’s priests adjudged it “significantly deficient” and “dangerous” to children in some aspects. The report was suppressed for six months until the diocese eventually published it under pressure in December.
The publication of the report triggered calls for Magee’s resignation from victims of abuse in his diocese and from national abuse survivors’ organisations. Andrews said Magee ought to reflect on his position but several of his fellow bishops spoke out in support of him remaining in situ.
Most recently, Magee was told by parents of children preparing for confirmation in the diocese that they did not want him attending the church ceremonies. Magee sent out a letter announcing that he would be unavoidably absent from confirmation ceremonies as he had to prepare for the Dublin Commission of Investigation.
A new garda inquiry has also commenced in the east and north Cork diocese into allegations of child sexual abuse made by two complainants recently. Aware that the commission’s investigation is scheduled to be completed in June, that the garda investigation could culminate in criminal charges against the alleged priest abuser and that up to half-a-dozen civil actions for damages against the diocese are due before the courts, Rome decided to act.
Sources confirm that Dr Diarmuid Martin, who has been unequivocal in his public utterances about the Cloyne scandal, visited Rome “several times in recent months without explanation”.
The appointment of Magee’s replacement is expected to require the creation of a new bishop.
In his statement yesterday, Archbishop Dermot Clifford said: “I look forward to serving the people and priests of Cloyne and to giving them pastoral leadership to the best of my ability.”
However, one member of the Cloyne diocese, whose child abuse is documented in the Elliott report, sought intercession from Clifford last year. She was subsequently reassured by a priest on the archbishop’s behalf that her complaint had been handled correctly by Magee.