Wednesday 17 October 2018

The arrogance of a prelate in denial

John Cooney

IT is a tale of two Irish churchmen who made their names as Vatican officials before their promotion as pastoral bishops to head dioceses in the land of their birth.

As private secretary to three Popes, Newry-born Fr John Magee became one of the best-known faces on television from coverage of his world trips with Pope John Paul II.

When Fr Magee was appointed Bishop of the Cork diocese of Cloyne it was widely thought that he was being groomed for higher office. But since his appointment 12 years ago he has remained in relative national obscurity in his rural diocese.

That was until last week, when a damning Church report into his handling of child sexual abuse complaints against two of his priests catapulted him into the limelight amid mounting speculation that he will fall on his crozier, as did the Bishop of Ferns, Brendan Comiskey.

For days, however, Bishop Magee has been in denial, insisting he has divine authority to continue in office.

This stubborn streak reflects not only his own temperament of being above accountability, it also characterises the old Roman mentality of ignoring the outcry from his folk in the expectation that calls for him to quit will fade away.

In contrast, the former Vatican diplomat Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, embodies the new spirit in Rome that is mandated by Pope Benedict to cleanse the Catholic Church of the clerical child sexual abuse cases that have damaged the Church's credibility.


It was the failure of a devastated Cardinal Desmond Connell to address adequately the abuse scandals in Dublin that led the Vatican to parachute Archbishop Martin as his replacement in the country's largest diocese. Since taking over as Archbishop, Martin has pursued a policy of openness and transparency in his handling of scandals, and he has given the maximum of co-operation to the Government Commission of Inquiry, which will report early next year.

The commission's findings will show that the abuses in Dublin were much worse than suggested by Cardinal Connell, and he has been hard at work in preparing his demoralised clergy to brace themselves for the worse -- but to apologise profusely for the past and get on with the task of building for the future.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Martin has courageously engaged in damage limitation for the Church which he loves and devotes his life to.

The contrast between Martin and Magee is between a revitalised open church and the old arrogance of an authoritarian church.

Shrewdly, the former head of the One In Four victims' group, Colm O'Gorman, said yesterday it was clear that any reasonable person could not now have confidence in Bishop Magee's ability to protect children, especially in his role as patron of national schools.

This prospect of Bishop Magee clinging to office is far from the Bethlehem message of peace and joy radiated by the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

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