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New report rips Irish diocese, Vatican on abuse response

July 13, 2011

In a long-awaited report on the handling of sex-abuse charges in the Cloyne diocese, released on July 13 by the Irish government, an independent commission severely chastised diocesan leaders—in particular, a bishop who resigned last year—and charged that Vatican officials had encouraged clerical indifference to the abuse problem.

The 400-page report, issued by a committee headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy—who had earlier headed a similar investigation into abuse in the Dublin archdiocese—broke new ground because it studied more recent cases. The report found that even after the Irish bishops’ conference had approved guidelines for handling sex-abuse complaints, the Cloyne diocese failed to follow those rules.

Between 1996 and 2005, the report found, there were 15 credible complaints about sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Cloyne, which “very clearly should have been reported.” Only 6 were reported.

Irish justice minister Alan Shatter said that the findings of the Cloyne report were “truly scandalous,” and charged that the Irish hierarchy had failed to carry through on the promise of abuse policies approved by the bishops in 1995. Frances Fitzgerald, the children’s minister observed that the Cloyne’s record of reporting only 6 of 15 credible complaints was a travesty. “That’s very nearly two-thirds of complaints un-reported, un-investigated, and un-prosecuted,” she observed.

The primary focus of the report’s criticism is Bishop John Magee, who resigned last year as complaints about the Cloyne diocese multiplied. The bishop showed no interest in enforcing the guidelines of the episcopal conference, the report said, and very little concern for the protection of children.

Although the Cloyne diocese theoretically supported the Irish bishops’ guidelines for protecting children, the report found that diocesan officials were “never genuinely committed to their implementation.” Msgr. Denis O’Callaghan, the chief aide to Bishop Magee, was unhappy with the guidelines and blocked their implementation, the report said. The Cloyne diocese continued to flout the guidelines of the episcopal conference until as late as 2009.

The report added a very negative view of Vatican officials’ attitude toward the abuse problem in Ireland, noting that the Congregation for Clergy had not approved the Irish bishops’ guidelines. Vatican officials “gave comfort and support” to those who, like Bishop Magee and Msgr. O’Callaghan, resisted the guidelines, the report charges; and the same officials were “entirely unhelpful” to Irish bishops who took more aggressive action against abusive clerics.

The Cloyne report was particularly scathing in its treatment of Bishop Magee. A longtime Vatican official himself, the bishop had served as private secretary to three different popes (Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II), and was widely regarded as a rising figure in the Irish hierarchy when he was appointed to head the Cloyne diocese in 1987 at the age of 50. He resigned under pressure in March 2010. The report also mentioned that Bishop Magee had been cited for “boundary” issues himself, because of embraces that the bishop said were considered normal gestures in the Roman society to which he had become accustomed. After the release of the report, Bishop Magee issued a statement apologizing to those who were harmed by clerical abuse, and conceding that he should have taken a more active role in confronting the problem.

Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly, who took over from Bishop Magee as apostolic administrator of the Cloyne diocese, remarked that the publication of the report marked “a very sad day for all the priests and people in the Diocese of Cloyne.” Apologizing to abuse victims, and thanking the authors of the report, the archbishop was frank in his criticism of the former diocesan leaders. “It appalls me” that proper guidelines were not in force until 2008, he said. He emphasized that both Bishop Magee and Msgr. O’Callaghan have now retired, and stressed that the Cloyne diocese is now fully committed to child-protection policies. Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, the Primate of All Ireland, agreed that the report “represents another dark day in the history of the response of Church leaders to the cry of children abused by Church personnel.”


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