Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bishop takes blame for abuse 'mistakes'

A BISHOP has finally accepted "personal responsibility" for the mishandling of sex abuse allegations in his diocese.

But beleaguered Bishop of Cloyne Dr John Magee remained defiant last night and continued to resist demands for his resignation.

The bishop is at the centre of an outcry after a Catholic Church report found his diocese failed to act on credible complaints of sex abuse by priests -- effectively putting children at risk of further abuse.

The report by the Church's watchdog National Board for the Safeguarding of Children (NBSC) found that in one case gardai were not told of the identity of an alleged sex abuser until six months after the first complaint against the priest.

In a second case, the NBSC found, the diocese's policy was to give only minimal information in relation to the priest accused of sex abuse.

Bishop Magee had sought to defuse the childcare protection controversy raging over his diocese by issuing a special Christmas message in which he personally accepted responsibility.

However, despite breaking his silence with the Christmas message, Dr Magee gave no indication of retiring from his post. And friends insisted he was now doubly determined to stay at the helm in Cloyne to see through the childcare reforms demanded by two special Church and State reports.

Tom Hayes, of victims' organisation the Alliance Support Group, said Bishop Magee's Christmas statement did not go far enough. He said the group has received a number of calls since it was made.

"The feedback we're getting from people is that they don't accept the bishop's statement and they believe he should resign. He failed to implement the safeguards that were agreed by the Church and most people believe he should not remain."

Mary Flaherty, national director of Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI), said that, although she welcomed the statement, the bishop still had a credibility issue and said that "it would be better if he did step aside".

"We would welcome a committal to do it better but there are still questions about why the exact guidelines weren't implemented. We're not talking about a historical phase, we're talking about a post- Ferns phase.

"What has changed to give us the confidence to believe that the guidelines will be implemented?"

In his message, read out at Christmas Eve Mass in Cobh, Co Cork, Dr Magee said he took full responsibility for the "errors" made in relation to the management of child sexual abuse claims in the diocese. He also gave a full assurance that such mistakes would not happen again.


"I fully accept this report and all its findings and I take full responsibility for the criticism of our management of some issues contained in this report. We made errors, not intentionally, and I want to assure you that such errors will not be made again in this diocese," he said.

"In the future we will have a clerical environment which is as safe as it possibly can be for the children of this diocese. We have, I can assure you, been working to create such an environment, but clearly this report highlighted the need for changes, which have been addressed or will be addressed in the immediate future."

Dr Magee promised a detailed statement to east Cork parishioners on the measures taken in hand early in the New Year.

"I again want to sincerely apologise to all victims of clerical sexual abuse and particularly to those who were abused by priests in the diocese. There can be and there will be no place in the Church or, indeed, in wider society for persons who abuse children. For a priest to abuse a child is a massive breach of trust and I am determined to ensure that it is extremely unlikely that this will happen again in this diocese," Bishop Magee stated.


Dr Magee also celebrated 10am Mass on Christmas Day at Cobh's St Colman's Cathedral -- but he did not refer to the controversy.

Prayers were said at Christmas Masses throughout the diocese of Cloyne for the bishop who has now come under intense pressure to resign over the childcare protection controversy. At one Mass, parishioners were asked to pray for Dr Magee "who has a lot on his mind at the moment".

Pressure on him to consider his position intensified after two senior Irish clerics admitted over Christmas that the Cloyne controversy is now threatening to damage the Church itself.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, said Dr Magee should do "what is best for child protection".

The Bishop of Killaloe, Dr Willie Walsh, said the whole incident was threatening to cause damage to the Church. While refusing to call on Dr Magee to resign, Dr Walsh did say the Cork cleric would have to consider his situation.

Vatican officials are also said to be "very concerned" at the implications for the entire Church in Ireland if the controversy continues to rage on unabated.

Pressure is expected to intensify on Dr Magee -- a former private secretary to three Popes -- with the imminent publication in January of a Health Service Executive (HSE) report on the Cloyne clerical child abuse claims.

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(Source: II)