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The sexual abuse scandal in Cloyne diocese is a major chapter in the series of Catholic sex abuse cases in the United States and Ireland.
Alleged mishandling by bishop Magee
In February 2008, the Irish Government referred two allegations of Child Sex Abuse to the National Board for Child Protection, an independent supervisory body established by the Irish bishops. When the chief executive of that body made contact with the diocese on the matter, he was met with lack of cooperation. Meetings held with Bishop John Magee and representatives of the diocese in March failed to elicit his full cooperation with the National Board for Child Protection's investigation. It transpired that he had failed to implement self-regulatory procedures agreed by the bishops of Ireland in 1996.
In April 2008, Justine McCarthy, a journalist with the Sunday Tribune, broke the story of the impending scandal in the diocese of Cloyne. There followed a number of hastily arranged meetings between Bishop Magee, Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan, Vicar General of Cloyne, and Dean Eamon Gould with representatives of the National Board for Child Protection. These resulted in Monsignor O'Callaghan handing over documentation concerning the two cases referred by the Irish Government to the National Board for Child Protection. On 28 June 2008, Ian Elliott, chief executive of the National Board for Child Protection, completed a damning report on the handling of both cases by Bishop Magee and by his delegate for Child Protection, Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan, and his inter-diocesan case management committee. The Elliott Report was examined by the case management committee on 9 July 2008 and it adopted a position of threatening legal action against Ian Elliott and the National Board for Child Protection were it to publish the Report. In the meantime, Ian Elliott passed the report to the Irish Government and to the minister for Children, Barry Andrews who did not read the report but passed it to the Health Service Executive to compile another report on it.
In December 2008, Deputy Sean Sherlock of the Labour Party raised the matter in the press and demanded a Dáil discussion of the handling of Child Sex Abuse in Cloyne. Further press coverage led to the publication of the Elliott Report by Bishop Magee on 19 December 2008. The contents of the Report were shocking and concluded that Bishop Magee's actions, and those of his agent's in this area, were inadequate and in some respects were dangerous. There followed a chorus of demands for Bishop Magee's resignation. The demands were renewed in January 2009 with the publication of the HSE Report commissioned by the Minister for Children which uncovered a number of other cases which had not been reported to the authorities or dealt with according to self-regulatory procedures. The Minister rejected a recommendation of the Health Executive Service report that the Cloyne case not be referred to the Dublin Tribunal of Investigation into Child Abuse and, following a Cabinet meeting held on 7 January, he referred Cloyne to the Dublin Tribunal which published a report in November 2009.
The inconsistencies between the procedures of the diocese of Cloyne to secure child protection and those agreed by the Irish Episcopal Conference can, to some degree, be explained by a chapter published in an autobiography by Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan in 2007. Commenting on what O'Callaghan calls "the blight of child sex abuse", he states that he was designated by bishop Magee as delegate "for processing complaints of clerical sex abuse" (p. 171). He elaborates that he found the job stressful "even though we had the assistance of an outstanding case management committee with highly committed and well-qualified personnel" (p. 171). In this role, apparently, O'Callaghan embarked on deploying an approach "characterised as that of pastoral care for all those suffering the consequences of the sex abuse itself or the implications of the procedures put in place to deal with the complaint" (p. 171) rather than one characterised by the official policy of the Irish Hierarchy (cf. Putting Hand to the Plough Dublin, Veritas 2007).
It now remains to be seen whether a member of the public will make complaint to An Garda Siochana against Bishop Magee and/or Monsignor Denis O'Callaghan under the terms of The Criminal Justice Act 2006 which provides for a new offence of reckless endangerment of children. This came into effect on 1 August 2006.
This offence may be committed by a person who has authority or control over a child or an abuser and who intentionally or recklessly endangers a child by:
Causing or permitting any child to be placed or left in a situation which creates a substantial risk to the child of being a victim of serious harm or sexual abuse or failing to take reasonable steps to protect a child from such a risk while knowing that the child is in such a situation. This offence may be prosecuted only by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The penalty is a fine (no upper limit) and/or a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.
In January 2009, Magee apologised to victims of clerical sex abuse after a report compiled by the Health Service Executive (HSE) found his diocese had put children at risk of harm through an "inability" to respond appropriately to abuse allegations. In spite of “a large number of calls for his resignation” the Bishop signalled his intention to remain.
Further analysis in January 2009 suggested that the bishop and diocese staff were sparing with details of allegations, and that Bishop Magee might have to resign, but also that the Irish government has not yet legislated for all the improvements in the law of evidence that were called for in the Ferns Report of 2005.
Intervention by Rome
On 7 March 2009 Pope Benedict appointed Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Emly as apostolic administrator of the Cloyne diocese, though Bishop Magee remained Bishop in title. Bishop Magee requested that the Pope take this action on 4 February. Bishop Magee said that he would use the time to "devote the necessary time and energy to cooperating fully with the government Commission of Inquiry into child protection practices and procedures in the diocese of Cloyne". In accordance with canon law, an apostolic administrator is named for an open-ended interim period. Bishop Magee's resignation was formally accepted by the Vatican on 24 March 2010.
- New church sex abuse guidelines published next month, Justine McCarthy, Sunday Tribune, 14 December 2008, retrieved 17 November 2009
- The Irish Times: “Andrews refers Cloyne to Dublin abuse commission”, January 7, 2009
- Irish Times, 8 January 2009, p.8
- Sunday Independent, 11 January 2009, p.24
- Bishop Magee steps aside over Cloyne controversy, Eoin Burke-Kennedy, The Irish Times, 7 March 2009, retrieved 9 March 2009
- Acceptance of resignation
- RTE news article on Bishop Magee's resignation, 24 March 2010