Saturday 25 March 2017

Tracked down -- and the bishop still has nothing to say

We get the first picture of the disgraced Dr John Magee since he ran away rather than face up to his failure to protect the children of his diocese

SHAMED: Bishop John Magee at the house in Mitchelstown,
Co Cork where he now lives. Exclusive pictures: Gerry Mooney
SHAMED: Bishop John Magee at the house in Mitchelstown, Co Cork where he now lives. Exclusive pictures: Gerry Mooney
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

BISHOP JOHN Magee has broken his month-long silence on the Cloyne Report, after he was tracked down by the Sunday Independent to Mitchelstown, Co Cork on Thursday.

Dr Magee reiterated his apology to victims but said he had "nothing to add" to the account that he gave to a commission of inquiry which found serious mishandling of clerical child-abuse allegations in his diocese.

Dr Magee has not been seen since the Cloyne Report revealed serious mishandling of child sex abuse allegations in the diocese. This newspaper found him back in the parish house provided for him by the diocese since he resigned last year.

Dr Magee agreed to be photographed but declined to be interviewed. However, he dismissed reports that he had fled to Rome or America. Asked about them, Dr Magee smiled, shook his head and replied: "No, I wasn't there."

The Sunday Independent discovered that Dr Magee was at home on Thursday afternoon, when a priest called to the parish house after 3pm.

After the priest left, a black car emerged from the back of the house, with Dr Magee in the passenger seat and his elderly brother, Hugh Magee, driving. The bishop wore dark glasses.

We caught up with Dr Magee and his brother when they returned to the house after 6pm, an intrusion that was not welcomed.

The bishop agreed to be photographed on the road in front of his house but he declined to be interviewed or to comment on the Cloyne report. He was courteous and appeared in good health. His demeanour was sombre and he spoke few words.

Instead, his brother spoke on his behalf. However, Dr Magee did say that he and his brother had only gone out that evening to say prayers at the grave of a friend who is buried in a nearby cemetery.

Asked if he intended to address priests in the diocese or his parishioners on the subject of the report, Dr Magee did not respond. His brother intervened to insist that there would be "no interview". He said the bishop was preparing a statement that would be issued "shortly".

Before they went indoors, Dr Magee's brother entreated that the retired bishop be treated fairly: "Treat him with respect. That's all I ask and I'm asking that as his brother."

The bishop subsequently issued a statement to this newspaper on Friday. It said: "I take this opportunity to refer once again to the statement issued on my behalf on the day the Cloyne Report was published, in which I accept full responsibility for the failure of the diocese to effectively manage allegations on child sexual abuse.

"I also apologised to victims of abuse in this statement and I unreservedly apologise to these victims again today. I publicly apologised to victims of abuse in the diocese in Cobh Cathedral on Christmas Eve, 2008.

"I wish to point out that I answered all questions put to me by the Commission of Inquiry and my responses are on the public record, as part of the published report. I have nothing to add to the answers given at this time.

"I offered my resignation to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on the 9th March, 2010 and this was accepted.

"I am a retired bishop living at a house so kindly provided for my use in the parish of Mitchelstown."

Dr Magee's statement is unlikely to satisfy those who have called on him to deal more robustly with the findings of the Cloyne report. The report, published on July 13, accused Dr Magee personally of "inertia" and of having little interest in implementing child-protection policies in his north Cork diocese.

Several bishops and priests have joined victims of clerical child abuse in calling on Dr Magee to answer questions raised in the report.

The Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dr Dermot Clifford, who is now looking after the Cloyne diocese, said it would have been helpful if Bishop Magee had personally faced the media.

The Bishop of Elphin, Dr Christopher Jones, said he would "genuinely like to see him back in his diocese and answering questions as pastor of his flock".

The bishop is understood to be working on a more detailed statement addressing aspects of the Cloyne Report, which could be released in weeks, rather than days.

Dr Magee, 74, was an influential figure in the Catholic Church, having served as private secretary to three popes and being amongst the first to find the body of Pope John Paul I. His attitudes to child protection were found wanting by the church's own watchdog, the National Board for Safeguarding Children.

In 2008 it found that child protection practices in Cloyne had been "inadequate and in some respects dangerous".

The commission investigating the handling of child-abuse cases in the Dublin Archdiocese, which extended its remit to Cloyne, produced an even more damning report.

It said the greatest failure of the diocese was not reporting all cases of child abuse to the authorities. But Dr Magee was personally singled out for deliberately misleading the authorities about internal inquiries into children's claims that priests were abusing them.

He was accused of "inertia" and of having little interest in how child sex-abuse cases were handled until 2008-12 -- years after church guidelines had been introduced.

Dr Magee was also personally the subject of a complaint. A young man claimed that in 2008, when he was 17 and considering becoming a priest, Dr Magee embraced him, kissed him on the forehead and told him he loved him and dreamed about him.

Dr Magee denied kissing the teenager. Child-protection experts deemed the incident inappropriate behaviour, rather than sexual abuse.

Dr Magee stepped down from the Cloyne diocese in March 2009 and he resigned as bishop a year later.

The official Vatican response to the Cloyne Report is expected to be published in a matter of weeks.

It is thought that Dr Magee may time his detailed statement on the the report to coincide with the Vatican's.

Sunday Independent

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